Books vs. Cigarettes

This week, instead of spending my money on clothes or food, I bought two new books and earmarked several more for later (I didn’t actually forgo food by the way, that seems very dramatic when I read it back).

I recently re-read an essay by George Orwell called ‘Books vs. Cigarettes’, in which he explores the idea that buying and reading books is ‘an expensive hobby’. To combat this perception, he compares his £25 annual expenditure on books and other reading materials (the essay was written in 1946, so with inflation this equates to roughly £975 now) to his £40 per year on cigarettes (£1560!).

Now, I can’t put myself on the same plane as Orwell, namely because I’m a terrible writer, and he’s dead. Also because I don’t actually smoke and I think it’s gross, so cigarette expenditure doesn’t really enter into my financial pie chart. I do always think twice before spending money on a book though, but if I’m going out for dinner or drinks I don’t hesitate; despite it invariably costing more. Yet of all the things I do on a weekly basis, reading probably proves the most enlightening- and it’s great for making “friends“… I asked a couple of “friends” about these ideas and none of them had spent any significant amount of money on books within the past six months, despite being keen readers and spending money on other things. (I bet George Orwell had many friends and many books just like me but they probably smelled a lot smokier.)

I wonder why then, this reluctance still emerges. I would hazard a guess that reading- although hugely entertaining- is something which requires a level of engagement that going out for a meal does not. Also, in order to truly enjoy a book, it’s important to disconnect entirely from the outside world- which is harder than it may seem, especially if your mum keeps calling you to ask if you’ve emptied the dishwasher (this is just a random example – it doesn’t happen to me…). Couple this with the fact that new books are relatively expensive, an 100 page book costing almost ten pounds has a certain pressure to be mind-blowingly fantastic when you’re on a shoestring budget. But this defeats the point of literature, and of escapism by such means. Finance shouldn’t enter into this realm, and the value of an idea can’t be confined to a price tag set by some guy in a suit earning more money than I ever will. I guess then, that borrowing and lending are probably the way forward, despite the inevitability that your book will never be returned. The selfless act of book lending therefore, inspires my new motto for the week : Passing on a great novel is better than passing on a bad attitude! :-))



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