Now apparently there's some fascinating evidence that reading provides us with a mental simulation of an experience which can be to our advantage in the real world. Alison Flood in The Guardian reports on a brain-imaging study carried out by psychologists at Washington University in St Louis which :
... used functional magnetic resonance imaging to track brain activity as participants read short stories, finding that reading is by no means a passive activity. Instead, as participants read from a 1940s text about the daily activities of a young boy, activity in different brain regions increased depending on what was going on in the story. ... So, if the character in the book "pulled a light cord", brain activity increased in the frontal lobe region which controls grasping motions. As the character in the story "went through the front door into the kitchen", activity went up in the relevant temporal lobes.In another study reported a couple of weeks ago two American researchers have gone a step further to prove that novels actually help to promote social order! If you want something more technical, New Scientist also covers this.
So ... erm ... don't feel guilty about picking up a book! You're learning all kind of useful skills.