I Loved to Read So Much I Accidentally Set the House on Fire

by | Apr 5, 2020

I was recently trying to figure out many books I’ve read in my lifetime. I’ve been reading as long as I can remember, so I’m pretty sure the final total is well into the thousands by now.

I started reading in earnest in the fourth grade (in large part due to The Babysitter’s Club, Nancy Drew, and Trixie Belden). I’ve been reading pretty much nonstop since then, except when I was at university, where I was so busy I didn’t have time to read for pleasure.

Little did I know this love of books would get me into some serious trouble. Like, accidentally starting my house on fire kind of trouble. [gulp]

[cue tinkly flashback music sound effect]

It was 1987. I was living the life of any ordinary first grader, playing outside on our farm in the rural Midwest, learning my multiplication tables, and having dance parties in my room to “Walk Like an Egyptian.”

But the thing I did the most was read. A lot. I wanted to read, read, read.

And so I did. I read when I got home from school and when I supposed to be helping out around the house. I wanted to read well into the night, but my parents told me to stop and go to bed.

Which I did. Or so they thought…

I was a resourceful child. If I wanted something, I found a way.

When I was younger, I had a major sweet tooth. I could eat entire bags of candy in one sitting. (I fondly remember unwrapping an entire bag of Hershey’s kisses and popping them in my mouth as I read Nancy Drew mysteries). If I really wanted sugar, I found a way to get some. I even doctored bags of candy that my mom bought in bulk by slitting them open underneath the bottom seam and sealing them from the inside, and she never knew the difference. I was a stealthy, sugar-crazed ninja.

In order to feed my reading habit, I had to be a little creative.

I’m not sure where I found it, but I got my hands on one of those giant 1980s Christmas light bulbs with a brown cord that must have belonged inside a ceramic figurine. It plugged into the wall and had one of those ridged on/off switches partway down the cord, but I thought it would be a great idea to unscrew the bulb itself to turn it off and on. [foreshadow alert]

Every night after my parents put us to bed, I put a blanket over my head so as not to disturb my 5-year-old sister (who shared the bed with me), twisted the bulb so it turned on, and read to my heart’s content. When I was finally done reading for the night, I untwisted it (still plugged in) and hid it underneath my pillow.

I did this for weeks, if not months, and it was fine. Juuuuust fine.

An Ordinary Day

It was just fine until one Saturday morning. I think it was the fall, but I can’t remember for sure. I had unscrewed the light bulb like any other night and went to bed. I even woke up early the next morning and read some more.

My sister and I then went downstairs and ate Froot Loops and watched Saturday morning cartoons on our 8-inch black and white TV. My mom was in the kitchen with us, helping with breakfast. My dad was outside doing farm stuff, and my 4-year-old brother was in the living room.

I was getting really into that day’s episode of the Smurfs, and my dad walked in and asked if anyone smelled smoke. My brother said he remembered seeing smoke coming out of the living room vent. My dad saw it too and went downstairs to check the furnace, and nothing was wrong.

When recounting this story, my dad said he went upstairs and saw that the room I shared with my sister was full of smoke. He slammed the door shut and ran back downstairs yelling “Fire!” and called 911. My mom grabbed us and ran outside, shoving us into the backseat of our black 1983 Oldsmobile Tornado (our emergency meeting spot). I remember pressing my face up to the glass and seeing the smoke come out of the upstairs window. Dad said he tried to go into our room with the fire extinguisher, but there was too much smoke.

Our small (yet mighty) volunteer fire department arrived with their trusty yellow fire truck and tried to go in with their firehoses. (My dad stopped them and politely asked them to use alternative methods.) Instead, they ran up the stairs with their industrial strength fire extinguishers and put it out. They dragged the incriminating item out of the house and let it smolder on the lawn.

Can you guess what this item was?


A mattress. My mattress.

Oooh boy.

I Swear It Was Just a Little Fire

When we went back inside the house to see the room, it was covered in black soot. My parents had to take out all the clothes and wash them, and they bought a machine deodorizer to get the smell of burnt plastic out of the room (from the foam in the mattress). My favorite dog pillow was completely ruined, and another pillow with my parents’ pictures on it that they got for their wedding was gone.

My parents sat us down and interrogated us to see who started the fire. I don’t remember doing so, but my sister insists that I completely denied plugging in the Christmas light to read, which left my sister as the prime suspect. However, my sister is not one to accept punishment for something she did not do, so she ratted me out.

Apparently, I started crying and confessed.

“I didn’t mean to start a fire! I was reading books!”

Reading books.

Who knew a potential consequence of loving books would be [accidentally] starting the house on fire?

[cue tinkly flashback music sound effect]

So, what was my punishment you ask? I honestly can’t remember. I do know that my sister and I had to share a different (smaller) room for a long time.

I remember being the talk of the town for several days. The small town I grew up in had approximately 863 people, and when the sirens went off, everyone in town knew who was involved pretty quickly. Even my first grade teacher, who lived one town over, knew about it.

I didn’t let accidentally setting one teeny, tiny fire stop me from reading. I just limited my reading time to normal hours and used regular lamps if it was dark.

We didn’t travel much when I was young, and reading books meant I could go on an adventure without ever leaving my room. I even read all the books at our tiny town library, and my parents had to pay $40 a year so we could use the library in the neighboring county.

New Directions

I was very excited when I started my editing career almost three years ago. I couldn’t believe I going to get paid to read for a living.

Helping writers with their books is very rewarding, and I am so excited that I get to nerd out about reading and forensics with all of you.

So, how about you? Has your love of reading gotten you into some interesting situations? Did you get in trouble for reading too much? Let me know in the comments below!



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