Doctors dub bookish children as mentally ill" ran the newspaper headline.

"Approaching levels injurious to health" read my ecg. A little later, when I had calmed myself sufficiently to read the article, it was to learn that some middle-class parents are so keen to have a label attached to their unclubbable, reclusive children that those who keep their noses stuck in books are at risk of being categorised as somewhere on the autistic spectrum. This phenomenon also comes with its own tag, "the medicalisation of normality".

It is an ugly phrase, but then so is the situation it describes. As one exasperated psychiatrist explained, "certain behaviours carry stigma and there is less stigma if it's associated with a disorder ... When did you last hear a kid called bookish or shy? At what point do those normal traits become social phobia or Asperger's?" And lest there was any misunderstanding, he made it clear it is not doctors pressing children into pigeon holes, but their worried and dissatisfied parents.

One fully understands their anxiety, of course. Reading is odd, there is no arguing with that. Who but a weirdo wants to avoid company or fresh air on a bright summer's afternoon or on Christmas Day, taking themselves off instead into a corner and an imaginary world with people who never existed, where they won't learn anything useful except perhaps a larger vocabulary and a greater aversion to human company?

Readers are the sort of people who grow up into adults who prefer to stay at home with a book on a Saturday night rather than head to the pub or their friends' barbecues. The day a reader finds someone equally keen to bolt the door and dive headfirst into print is the day they bond for life. The scenes in Morecambe And Wise where Eric and Ernie are sitting up in bed in their pyjamas, books in hand, smile on face, surely depicts millions of happy couples, whose hour beneath the duvet before light's out is often their only time of unalloyed bliss since the alarm clock went off that morning.

Youthful bookworms may look shy or stammer when faced with strangers, but that is often because they think before they speak, knowing only too well from fiction what can happen when you blurt out the first thing that comes into your mind. They are often keen not to prolong any conversation that might impinge on reading time. If they seem anti-social, however, then sadly they often are; but people in their orbit should not take offence. It is nothing personal. Simply put, what mere mortal can compete with the fascination of the characters they find in books?

Instead of taking umbrage, or fearing their children are missing out on the great circus of real life, the wise parent lets them roam free on the bookshelves, and read for as long as they like. There is no better preparation for the world that lies ahead, nor any more certain consolation.

Reading has always alarmed those who don't, and it is not just today that bookish types are viewed with concern. Had bookworms existed in the Middle Ages, you can be sure they would have burned alongside witches. Society has never liked or trusted people who not only survive for long periods without any company but books, but positively thrive on it. They represent a threat, though most would be hard pressed to explain why that is. Like the albino blackbird or black swan, they simply stand out from the crowd.

Perhaps the rise of book groups and book festivals is a fightback against such stigma. Maybe they also assuage the loneliness the less insular reader can sometimes feel, or allow sub-fanatical bookworms to combine their love of books with a bit of sociability with others of a like mind.

Any parent bemoaning their child's book habit should take comfort. They may not entirely fit in with their peers, or be the life and soul of the bouncy castle, but it's my experience that in the long run, readers make good members of society, being useful, thoughtful, resourceful and - best of all - imaginative.