Copyright ©2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now, it's time for our regular book series. We call it PG-13 because that's about when teenage readers start to explore the adult world, even if they know they're not quite ready.

When author Ben Mezrich was that age, he discovered Ernest Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises." He has this essay explaining how a book he read as a teenager was still leading him on adventures years later.

BEN MEZRICH, BYLINE: Around the time I turned 12, I figured out exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up - an alcoholic. I didn't actually know what it meant to be an alcoholic, but I knew one day, I would drink copious amounts and dash around the streets of Paris. Hopefully, I'd be in the company of bullfighters and bankrupts, impotent newspaper correspondents and exotically beautiful divorcees.

Basically, my childhood was turned upside down by a book that I discovered a little too early. "The Sun Also Rises" by Ernest Hemingway is a fantastic read, but it's not really right for a 12-year-old.

Here's what happened. From early on, I was obsessed with television, really bad TV, shows like "Three's Company" and "Charlie's Angels." My parents set a rule in the house that I had to read two books a week before I could get back to my pixilated garbage. And so, somewhere around my 12th birthday, I stumbled on Hemingway's masterpiece and, suddenly, I was obsessed with these drunk writers pirouetting around Paris.

On its surface, the book is simple. It's the story of the wounded ex-pat journalist, Jake Barnes, and his unconsummated love for the divorced and fabulous Lady Brett Ashely. There's also Jake's rivals, Robert Cohn and the bankrupt Mike Campbell, but underneath, it's a dark romance about lost and decaying souls that somehow manages to be full of life.

Somewhere along the journey, as the not-so-merry crew traveled from Paris to Pamplona, something inside of me flickered alive. At that age, I didn't know what was wrong with Jake and why he couldn't marry Brett. Actually, I'm still not entirely sure I know what was wrong with Jake and why he couldn't marry Brett, but I worshipped him. I'd never been drunk, but I wanted to be. I wanted to file cables, sit at cafes and eat hardboiled eggs.

Well, I didn't become an alcoholic, but like Jake, I became a writer and then the first thing I did when I sold my book was travel to Paris and try to have a drink in every bar that Jake does. It turns out, this is nearly impossible and so, safely back home, but still with the taste of Paris on my lips, I knew that the life of a writer was for me, but I could leave the excess where it belonged, back in the city that Hemingway wrote so well.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: Ben Mezrich's latest book is called "Sex on the Moon." He recommended "The Sun Also Rises" by Ernest Hemingway.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.