# Books vs Cigarettes by George Orwell – Summary and Analysis

One evening around 1944, when Orwell was with an editor friend; they were fire-watching with some factory workers. His friend asked the workers how they liked his newspaper. Most liked it, but the literary section did not interest them as it dealt with costly books. They would not spend twelve and sixpence on buying a book. Orwell’s friend quipped that these were the men who spent several pounds to go to Blackpool (a town in England). It was a common idea that reading is a luxury for the rich people and the poor cannot afford it. Orwell decides to examine this idea. He goes into great depth and detail to prove reading is an affordable exercise. Even if less exciting, according to him, reading is a much better hobby. It is difficult to estimate how much reading books costs per hour but Orwell presents an estimate of his own inventory of books and its total cost. Including other related expenses, Orwell presents an estimate of how much reading has cost him over the last fifteen years. The essay will make you think. It is filled with humor but Orwell’s analysis is also thought-provoking. He takes a dig at how much people miss if they cannot spend on books. In very simple and clear words and without any complex calculations or mathematical analysis, his work proves reading helps you use your time productively.

Orwell has kept things straightforward and uses only basic mathematics to prove that reading is not as expensive as it appears. His small library has 900 books and is worth less than 200 pounds. His total collection of 15 years cost him Â£11 1s a year. This was an estimate based on the price of books. Orwell adds the other expenses to give the readers a more clear estimate of the total expenses associated with reading. His full reading expenses also included his spending on newspapers and periodicals which amounted to around Â£8. However, it includes two daily newspapers, one evening newspaper, one weekly review, and one or two monthly magazines. Well, most people find it difficult to read one newspaper a day. Including these expenses and some other expenses like library subscriptions, the total figure Orwell arrived at was Â£25 a year. This would sound a large sum but when compared to other expenses people incur knowingly and unknowingly, it’s not much. Â£25 a year converted to 9s 9d a week and could buy someone 83 cigarettes. Cigarette prices had grown higher in the post-war period. Before the war, people could buy 200 cigarettes for the same price. He calculates his expenditure on alcohol and cigarettes which was around Â£40. The national average spending on alcohol and cigarettes is also around the same. It proves Orwell’s point that the cost of reading books even if you include several magazines and periodicals each month does not amount to higher than the combined cost of cigarettes and alcohol.