A Year in Reading: Nick Ripatrazone

December 5, 2020 | 2 2 min read

The first book I read this year—or I should say re-read—was Blaise Pascal’s Pensées

I have a few copies of the book, for no good reason. One is a relatively new Penguin version: healthy and intact. The other is an aged copy of used bookstore origin. I really like the book—I cycle through it every few years, like writing letters to an old friend—but I really am not sure why I have more than one copy.

This is a recurring problem.

My house is full of books. It is overflowing. My books creep and crawl: on the floor, between pieces of furniture, behind bookcases—where they have fallen and collect dust, only to be resurrected, dusted, and re-shelved. 

My wife has patience with my obsession. We have bookcases on bookcases. They fill, they overflow, and that flow snakes into rooms that have no business storing books. 

For years, each day brought piles of new books to the mailbox, the doorstep, the driveway in front of the garage. I write about books—lots of books—so the refrain continued. This year, it paused; or I should say, it became virtual. I appreciate the digital access, but I miss fresh new books, arriving through expectation or surprise.


Despite the slowed stream, there are many books in our house. I often send my twin daughters on searches for books. Find me Redeployment or The Crying of Lot 49, I say. They have become good at these literary hunts.


Occasionally they help me discover other books of which I have multiple copies. Beloved. The Bluest Eye. Pale Colors in a Tall Field. Ulysses.

Sometimes they are in separate rooms, like displaced siblings. Other times they are in the same bookcase, separated by wood and brother-and-sister books. Once in a while they are together: twins.

I can’t let go of them. They often have different covers, or different colors. The pagination or font differs. The soul is the same.

Book lovers, those of you who are reading this: you understand. At some point, we fell in love with books. It is a silly love, a stubborn love. 

There are worse loves. There are worse devotions. I hope that books have kept you company this year. I hope that some books have given you comfort, and that others have made you feel uncomfortable for good reasons.

I was reading Pascal for a review that I was writing, but like much of my reading, it started with a purpose and was continued by curiosity. I finished the review, but stayed with Pascal for a little bit. I am still with him.

He wrote: “Rivers are roads which move, and which carry us whither we desire to go.”

I hope that 2021 is a gentle river.

More from A Year in Reading 2020

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Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 20192018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

is a contributing editor for The Millions. He is the culture editor for Image Journal, and a contributor to the Catholic Herald (UK). He has written for Rolling Stone, GQ, The Paris Review, The Atlantic, Esquire, and the Kenyon Review. He is the author of Longing for an Absent God and Wild Belief. Follow him at @nickripatrazone and find more of his writing at nickripatrazone.com.


  1. Hard to imagine something greater than asking a kid for a book, and then returning with one–let alone the one you asked for. My daughter’s just grown old enough to identify books by their covers. I ask her for “the mosquito book” (a history of mosquitos) and she yells “qui qui qui qui” while plucking it off the shelf. She recognizes Voltaire’s Candide and Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class by their covers. (Can you tell by now she has access to only one shelf, and our shelves are alphabetized?) Still, she’s got surprises. I asked her this morning to pick out a book for me. She walked over to her usual shelf, and stopped a couple feet before she got there, spun around, and walked back to me. She wanted me to take her upstairs. She didn’t want to read today.

  2. As an adult I’ve 3 times. The first 2 moves…lots of books, lots of boxes, but I had no real challenge packing and loading and shipping. The last move…a whole room had been given over to piles. The garage and the above-the-garage room, filled with books. I enlisted the help of a college student to help with the lifting. I sold books at used bookstores in New Haven, Oxford Ohio, sent boxes to friends. Wherever we’ve lived, bookstore staff got to know me well enough to permit in the back, where the advance copies were kept, and let me leave with any I wanted. The last move, back and knee surgery in the last couple years, we downsized. A friend of a friend runs a used bookstore in Provincetown. He came and started boxing up boxes of books from one room on ground level, a second one upstairs. He had to come back the next day to finish. I had kept aside many books I couldn’t part with. By the end this man who owned a used book store (with an emphasis on more university press kind of books) said “I never want to see another book.” And he had no interest in the ARCs. Nick, I greatly enjoy your reviews. Not many critics I read cite Pascal. Quick question pertinent to your article: sometimes do you find it just easier to buy a new copy of a book than find the one you just know you’ve seen but darned if it’s where you saw it last (year or so ago…)? OK, one more question. If I pay the postage I’d welcome any contemporary poetry collections Authors, publishers–we could talk.

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