I have an addiction and it can't be cured. For an addict to be freed, they must first recognise their addiction, and then want to be cured of it.
Over a period of time, the addiction has taken more of a hold on me. Fortunately, the career I have had for the past 40-plus years has afforded me an income that has allowed the feeding of this affliction. Not only financially, but also in the company I have kept.
It hasn't always been so. School results did not reward my parents' investment, nor their ambitions. I know it disappointed them and, fortunately for family honour, my younger sister modified their frustration. I well remember in high school an English teacher, after handing back a class assignment, ordered me outside. There he addressed me and while I don't remember exactly what he said, it had to do with being lazy and not trying. What I do recall, if not his precise words, was I could be top of the class if I chose. If I pulled finger …if I… But I wasn't listening to his conclusion. I was thinking, really, that it was easy, I didn't need to try. The psychology of it intrigues me to this day.
As it happens, the good Dr Turner, my teacher, had taught my father, who had been top of his class. I was much more interested in other things at that age.
My father had great regard for books, and some of it rubbed off. He taught me to respect them, and how to open a new book so the spine didn't split. It might have helped that my only great-uncle was a bookbinder. I would watch him at work in his little factory at the back of the house. Dad didn't have much of a collection, and I only remember one small bookcase, but out of all of that I somehow ended up a book addict.
When we travel, there are three retail experiences I pursue. You'll find me either in a wine shop, clothing store or book shop. More recently though, books have become more dominant while sadly book stores less prominent. The closure of some chains, particularly in the US, is the result of online selling, with Amazon setting the pace. In Las Vegas in 2017, it was a good 20-minute Uber drive from the strip to the only decent book store in town. I can spend three hours in a good book store, and that day I returned to the hotel with three books, and cover photos of more for online purchasing. It's an uneasy feeling; taking pictures with the phone almost feels like shoplifting.
Possibly my most treasured book was published 36 years ago. On my first US trip I was browsing in a Washington DC bookstore when the cover of a book screamed at me. THE FED, Inside the Federal Reserve, the Secret Power Centre that Controls the American Economy. Author, Maxwell Newton. Max was the inaugural editor for The Australian newspaper in 1964. I bought that first edition. Max was an economist, a publisher, a writer, and renowned for his rather adventurous approach to life.
Two days later, I discovered how big New York was when I trudged from my hotel in Times Square to the New York Post offices by the Brooklyn Bridge. Max gave me time and signed the book, "Down with Central Banks! And let us start with the Fed." As a result, I had Max on the radio programme more than once. After the first couple of commentaries, he one day complained, in his broad Australian accent, "geez mate, I get paid thousands for doing this and I'm doing it for you for nothing". But he did it anyway. Up until the day he died from a stroke in 1990.
I brought books home from Jerusalem, New Orleans, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia. From a wonderful shop on Piazza della Repubblica in Florence, and Waterstones' fabulous headquarters in London. One of my favourites is Barnes and Noble at the Arboretum in Austin, Texas.
Alan Drury, Pulitzer Prize winner, covered the Senate in Washington for years. His most famous novel was Advise and Consent. After I had interviewed him from New Zealand, we later met for lunch in San Francisco. Then I relieved a secondhand bookshop of a number of his works.
I keep books, rarely lend them, and refer to them frequently. History, economics, politics, wine, design, science. I have bought multiple copies of some books to give away, because it gives pleasure. Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl is one.
My addiction is incurable and I have no interest in its resolve. What I would like is the ability to purchase more time to read, to appreciate and absorb the information, knowledge and wisdom that begs attention.
• Listen to the Leighton Smith Podcast is at newstalkzb.co.nz, and nzherald.co.nz and on iHeart Radio.