Reading is more dangerous than I thought. Not only is reading while walking cause for concern, but reading in bed may also be a problem. At least people who lived during the 1800’s thought it was.
Like cigarettes are today, reading in bed was a fire hazard. People needed candlelight to see. If they drifted off to sleep while reading with a candle burning at their bedside, there was always a chance that the house could catch fire.
The Atlantic recently published an article that details how the British came to connect reading in bed first to fire and then to an immoral spirit. People who read this way were considered to be “insolent child[ren]” prone to crime. This kind of commentary seems like an overreaction, but the disapproval of reading stemmed from broader changes to society. By the 1800’s, more and more people had access to a personal rather than shared bedroom. And unlike in the 17th and 18th centuries, people were beginning to read silently rather than aloud to others.
Instead of fire, this silent reading was the real danger. People feared that reading alone and other solitary vices “fostered a private, fantasy life that would threaten the collective.” Who knew what those wild and crazy book lovers were thinking? Maybe they were contemplating things that they shouldn’t.
It’s strange to imagine that reading caused such panic, but people often don’t handle changes to society well. For those of you interested in learning more, I highly suggest you read Nick Mavrody’s full article, “The Dangers of Reading in Bed”. It is a fascinating peek into how seemingly harmless habits can incite panic.
And if you do read in bed, you probably shouldn’t leave any candles burning while you do it. Just in case.