illustrated portrait of English author George Orwell

George Orwell

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In his essay "Books vs. Cigarettes," how does George Orwell argue in favor of books?

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George Orwell's initial anecdote in "Books vs. Cigarettes" regards the opinion that books are an expensive hobby, one that is out of reach for the common, middle-class person. Orwell proceeds to use himself as an above-average consumer of books and summarizes the types and general cost of the books he owns; roughly 900, collected over the course of fifteen years. After estimating the cost, he posits that he has spent about £25 GBP per year on the books; a below-average reader would spend less. He then compares his book expenditures to his recreational expenditures:

With prices as they now are, I am spending far more on tobacco than I do on books. I smoke six ounces a week, at half-a-crown an ounce, making nearly £40 a year.
Forty pounds a year would just about pay for a packet of Woodbines every day and half a pint of mild six days a week -- not a magnificent allowance. Of course, all prices are now inflated, including the price of books: still, it looks as though the cost of reading... does not amount to more than the combined cost of smoking and drinking.
(Orwell, "Books vs. Cigarettes,"

His essential argument is that books are a lasting resource, unlike cigarettes, which are used up and must be repurchased. Books provide continual usage until they wear out, which could take many years, and his spending £25 on lasting books every year is far less than the £40 per year on consumable alcohol and tobacco. Orwell also points out that library books cost significantly less, and one can sell a stock of purchased books for about a third of their original price, thus receiving the entertainment and eduction of the book while regaining some of the cost; this stands opposed to cigarettes, which are bought and smoked, after which both money and cigarette are gone forever.

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