Have you ever noticed that reading is generally considered a hobby? I suppose it certainly could fall into that category, but I think the idea of reading as purely the pursuit of a hobbyist greatly overlooks and trivializes our relationship with words.
For example, consider this question: What is your favorite place to read?
I have no statistics to back me up, but I would be willing to bet that people's answers would invariably be quite similar: in a library, on the couch, under a tree, in a hammock, beside a babbling brook, in bed, etc. And why wouldn't they be? Comfortable, peaceful, quiet; ideal spots that invite you to fill them in with other worlds or times or ideas. And yet they are the answers of a hobbyist, no? They are places you go to for the intention of reading.
But here is a more compelling answer: on the bus.
I've heard it said that in the world of food the best spice is hunger. And the same thing could be said about reading. Sure, an exquisitely prepared 5-star meal will taste better than a slap-dash PB&J, but if you're hungry and you've got a slapdash PB&J in your bag then that sandwich is going to look amazing. Because it won't be the taste that really matters, it will be the sustenance. And a peaceful spot by a babbling brook may be a perfect location to read, but it doesn't fill that inner void in the same way a spot such as the bus does.
There are times when you are hungry for entertainment. You are hungry for stories, or facts, or adventure, or any number of things. Because you're human and because it's crowded and noisy and the sights out the window are the same ones you see every single day. That's when you want some escapism. That's when you need some escapism.
And that's the kind of reading we tend to forget, isn't it? We remember the times we sat down in a quiet spot to read that fantastic new book by our favorite author, but we often gloss over the times some random book has saved us from a boring gathering. Let alone the multitude of other times some well placed words rescued our minds from boredom. Not to mention the times where some words might not have pulled you out of the water, but at least threw you a life preserver (the backs of cereal boxes or the emergency procedure instructions in vehicles for example). Our lives are filled with times words have turned the tedious into the dynamic, if even for a little while.
And it is those times that reading shows its true colors, don't you think? Those times when it sates our hunger and revitalizes the mundane. Those times when it fills up a little part of us that was empty.
And, to jump the rails of this subject a bit, it's always struck me as odd when people describe someone as a person who "likes to read." Everyone who can read likes to read. You will never meet any literate person who wishes they couldn't read. Because if you couldn't read you would be fundamentally disconnected from everyone around you. Heck, you'd be disconnected from the world around you. Street signs, headlines, maps, warnings, bumper stickers, menus, instructions, labels, do I really need to go on?
Reading is more than just books. Reading is a part of who we are as a culture. We read to escape, we read for fun, we read to understand, we read to communicate. If reading is a hobby then we are all hobbyists.