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I'm a Romanian student trying to translate one of George Orwell's essays, “Books vs Cigarettes”. I came across this:

Bought                               36    9    0
Gifts                                10   10    0
Review copies, complimentary copies  25   11    9
Borrowed and not returned             4   16    9
On loan                               3   10    0
**Shelves**                           2    0    0
Total                                82   17    6

I have problems with understanding what shelves refers to in the given context. While we’re at it, I would also kindly ask for help regarding review copies, complimentary copies. I'm having trouble with their exact meaning so I cannot find a proper equivalent in Romanian.

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Orwell says, in that essay "After allowing for various other expenses...". I suspect he is factoring in the cost or value of his bookshelves.

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I would really like to know why the down vote. – Canis Lupus Mar 11 '14 at 21:11
I tend to agree. The author says: "Exactly what reading costs, reckoned in terms of pence per hour, is difficult to estimate, but I have made a start by inventorying my own books and adding up their total price. After allowing for various other expenses, I can make a fairly good guess at my expenditure over the last fifteen years." Shelves are the only list element that would fall in the "various other expenses" category. – George Cummins Mar 11 '14 at 21:16
I agree, this answer is correct, and I've upvoted. (It was especially helpful to me, because it tipped me off that my original answer was totally bogus.) I suspect that the downvote might be because it ignores the part of the question about review/complimentary copies, or perhaps because it sounds uncertain. I hope they didn't downvote on the basis of my original answer! – Bradd Szonye Mar 11 '14 at 21:38
thank you for your help! – aly Mar 11 '14 at 21:40

This list is an accounting of the books that Orwell owns and what he has paid for them.

The books that I have counted and priced are the ones I have here, in my flat. I have about an equal number stored in another place, so that I shall double the final figure in order to arrive at the complete amount. I have not counted oddments such as proof copies, defaced volumes, cheap paper-covered editions, pamphlets, or magazines, unless bound up into book form. Nor have I counted the kind of junky books-old school text-books and so forth — that accumulate in the bottoms of cupboards. I have counted only those books which I have acquired voluntarily, or else would have acquired voluntarily, and which I intend to keep. In this category I find that I have 442 books, acquired in the following ways:

[Table of books owned, including “Review copies and complimentary copies.”]

A complimentary copy is a copy of a book given away by a publisher or author as a courtesy. A review copy is a specific case of this, given to critics, authors, or similar experts for them to review, as a professional courtesy. Orwell accounts for these separately from books given to him by his friends.

Now as to the method of pricing. Those books that I have bought I have listed at their full price, as closely as I can determine it. I have also listed at their full price the books that have been given to me, and those that I have temporarily borrowed, or borrowed and kept. This is because book-giving, book-borrowing and bookstealing more or less even out. I possess books that do not strictly speaking belong to me, but many other people also have books of mine: so that the books I have not paid for can be taken as balancing others which I have paid for but no longer possess. On the other hand I have listed the review and complimentary copies at half-price. That is about what I would have paid for them second-hand, and they are mostly books that I would only have bought second-hand, if at all. For the prices I have sometimes had to rely on guesswork, but my figures will not be far out. The costs were as follows:

[Table of costs, including “Shelves.”]

Orwell doesn’t explicitly state it, but we can infer from context that the Shelves entry indicates the amount he paid for the shelves he uses to store the books, as that is often a significant fraction of the total cost of book ownership.

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thank you! thank you very much! – aly Mar 11 '14 at 21:39
@BraddSzonye - really, you changed your whole answer ? – Canis Lupus Mar 11 '14 at 21:39
@Jim Half of it was wrong, and when I fixed that I realized that the other half could use some fleshing out. I probably shouldn't write answers on my mobile phone in the elevator! – Bradd Szonye Mar 11 '14 at 21:45
In case anyone was wondering, the money amounts are expressed in the old form of pounds, shillings and pence, which was abolished in 1971 in favour of decimalisation. It used to be 12 pence to the shilling and twenty shillings to the pound. If you adjust for inflation the total would be somewhere in the region of £4,000 at today's prices. But in those days I suspect books were far more expensive in real terms than they are today. – WS2 Mar 11 '14 at 21:45
@WS2 I haven't tracked hardcover prices, which would be more relevant, but the price increase of mass market paperback books is one of the steepest over the last 50 years. A typical "airport" novel was 25¢ then, and perhaps $8 or more now. – Andrew Lazarus Mar 11 '14 at 22:46

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