My favorite books about memories and poignant reflections on the passing of time

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a Wiltshire-based writer with a passion for historical and literary fiction and a fascination for the role of “memory” in the autumn of our lives. My own novel was inspired by conversations with my late grandfather in his final years. But as a journalist for more than 20 years, I had many rich opportunities to talk to the elderly members of our communities–most memorably, taking a pair of D-Day veterans back to the beaches of Normandy. In many ways, memories are the only things we can take with us throughout our lives, carrying both the burden of regrets and the consolation of those we have loved.


I wrote...

Prayer in Time of War

By David Clensy,

Book cover of Prayer in Time of War

What is my book about?

This book tells the story of veteran Ernie as he returns to an Italy transformed from his experiences during the Second World War in search of the girl he left behind in the back streets of Naples half a century before. 

The novel is a story of love in a world without room for romance. Both Ernie and Preghiera see in each other the hope of happiness. But they live in a world that seems set on keeping them apart. Just as love can last a lifetime, so too can heartache. For fifty years, Ernie dreams of returning, to take the hand of the true love of his life, determined nothing will stop him from being with Preghiera at the last. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Sense of an Ending

David Clensy Why did I love this book?

I was captivated by Julian Barnes’ treatment of memory and time in this novel, which tells the story of Tony Webster and his group of school friends, whose relationships fracture and strain as life and death leave their marks on their lives. In his retirement, Webster's own memories of his youth prove unreliable.

I felt it was a well-paced and exquisitely written short novel, which makes impressive use of subtle imagery (the sight of the Severn bore is a good example–a nod to how the world can sometimes surprise us). He uses these subtly constructed visual reference points to illustrate this greater message on the relationship between time and memory.

As a piece of writing, I found it quite simply extraordinary.

By Julian Barnes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Sense of an Ending as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2011

Tony Webster and his clique first met Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they would navigate the girl-less sixth form together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit. Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, certainly more intelligent, but they all swore to stay friends for life.

Now Tony is in middle age. He's had a career and a single marriage, a calm divorce. He's certainly never tried to hurt anybody. Memory, though, is imperfect. It can always throw up surprises, as a lawyer's letter is…


Book cover of The Sea

David Clensy Why did I love this book?

John Banville's 2005 novel, tells the story of a widower who returns to the seaside town of his childhood family holidays and where he fell in love for the first time.

Banville artfully weaves together the strands of the different times in Max Morden's life to create a tapestry of love and loss. He paints a haunting portrait of the beachside community and its characters.

I found the language spellbindingly descriptive and evocative of a distinctive place and time. At times, it borders on poetry. There is humour and pathos aplenty. It is a beautiful but beautifully sad novel, filled with sad people. Ultimately, this symphony of sadness crescendos to a heart-wrenching ending. 

By John Banville,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

BOOKER PRIZE WINNER • NATIONAL BESTSELLER • An “extraordinary meditation on mortality, grief, death, childhood and memory" (USA Today) about a middle-aged Irishman who has gone back to the seaside to grieve the loss of his wife. 

In this luminous novel, John Banville introduces us to Max Morden, a middle-aged Irishman who has gone back to the seaside town where he spent his summer holidays as a child to cope with the recent loss of his wife. It is also a return to the place where he met the Graces, the well-heeled family with whom he experienced the strange suddenness…


Book cover of The English Patient

David Clensy Why did I love this book?

Set amid the final days of the Second World Way in an abandoned Italian village, it tells the story of Hana, a nurse tending to her sole remaining patient. Rescued from a burning plane, the anonymous Englishman is something of a mystery. But with the help of a copy of Herodotus' The Histories, which the airman had on his person when rescued, Hana begins to piece together his life.

I felt the writing twists from moments of great beauty and clarity to whole sections that are almost impenetrable in their poetic depth. Switches of narrative viewpoint make the reader work hard at times, but it’s well worth the effort for this poignant tale that remains with you long after you have read the last page.

By Michael Ondaatje,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The English Patient as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hana, a Canadian nurse, exhausted by death, and grieving for her own dead father; the maimed thief-turned-Allied-agent, Caravaggio; Kip, the emotionally detached Indian sapper - each is haunted in different ways by the man they know only as the English patient, a nameless burn victim who lies in an upstairs room. His extraordinary knowledge and morphine-induced memories - of the North African desert, of explorers and tribes, of history and cartography; and also of forbidden love, suffering and betrayal - illuminate the story, and leave all the characters for ever changed.


Book cover of Last Orders

David Clensy Why did I love this book?

The novel tells the story of a group of friends who have taken it upon themselves to carry out the “last orders” of their drinking partner, Jack Dodds, to deliver his ashes to the grey seas of Margate. As they drive to the coast, their errand becomes a poignant journey into their collective pasts.

Swift described it as an homage to William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, and it follows a similar narrative structure, with chapters titled with the names of the seven key characters, with a shifting narrative perspective to follow the story from each of their eyes.

As a reader, you naturally find your favourite narrative viewpoint. For me, it was Ray, “Lucky Ray,” the obsessive gambler, which for me was the real centre of the novel.

By Graham Swift,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Last Orders as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE BOOKER PRIZE 1996

The classic edition of one of the 20th Century's finest novels

Four men once close to Jack Dodds, a London butcher, meet to carry out his peculiar last wish: to have his ashes scattered into the sea at Margate. For reasons best known to herself, Jack's widow, Amy, declines to join them . . . On the surface a simple tale of an increasingly bizarre day's outing, this Booker-prize winning, internationally acclaimed novel is a resonant and classic exploration of the complexity and courage of ordinary lives. Intensely local but overwhelmingly universal, faithful to…


Book cover of The Remains of the Day

David Clensy Why did I love this book?

‘The evening is the best part of the day.’ This is the ultimate realisation of Mr. Stevens, the narrator of Kazuo Ishiguro’s most famous novel. It is a delightful first-person narrative, during which Stevens, an ageing butler, looks back on his life of service while embarking on a drive through the West Country.

Ultimately, it is a love story, the most moving of love stories, the unrequited love story. It is also an atmospheric portrait of a bygone age, of a life in service before the war, in the dying moments of the aristocracy’s country estate era.

I loved the fact that we, the readers, are addressed directly as if we are sitting beside Stevens in his vintage Ford as he motors around the country.

By Kazuo Ishiguro,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked The Remains of the Day as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

*Kazuo Ishiguro's new novel Klara and the Sun is now available to preorder*

The Remains of the Day won the 1989 Booker Prize and cemented Kazuo Ishiguro's place as one of the world's greatest writers. David Lodge, chairman of the judges in 1989, said, it's "a cunningly structured and beautifully paced performance". This is a haunting evocation of lost causes and lost love, and an elegy for England at a time of acute change. Ishiguro's work has been translated into more than forty languages and has sold millions of copies worldwide.

Stevens, the long-serving butler of Darlington Hall, embarks on…


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Trans-Mongolian Express

By David L. Robbins,

Book cover of Trans-Mongolian Express

David L. Robbins Author Of War of the Rats

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve penned (so far) seventeen novels, most set during some historical conflict or other, all of them revolving around intense personal relationships (loyalty, love, betrayal, those sorts of profound truths). I tend to read the sorts of books I wish to write. I also teach creative writing at a university (VCU); I tell my students that if they want to really know what a character is made of, shoot at them or have them fall in love. In my own work, I do both.

David's book list on love and war and describing both battlefields

What is my book about?

In the harrowing aftermath of Chornobyl's meltdown in 1986, the fate of Eastern Europe hangs by a thread.

From Beijing, American radiation scientist Lara, once a thorn in the Russian mob's side, is drawn back into the shadows of the Soviet Union on the Trans-Mongolian Express. She isn't alone. Anton, a Soviet scientist exiled for predicting Chornobyl's catastrophe, is on a quest to expose the truth. Amidst them, Timur, a Chechen giant fueled by vengeance, plots to destroy the already crumbling Soviet Union.

Suddenly, a murder on the remote tracks of the Gobi thrusts them into a deadly game of cat and mouse. As Chief Sheriff Bat races to solve the murder, their lives are thrown into jeopardy. Lara finds an unexpected ally in Gang, a reluctant assassin sent to end her life, and an illicit romance blooms amidst the chaos. But Gang isn't the only killer onboard. A hidden menace lurks, threatening to unravel all their plans.

In this electrifying ride across a historical backdrop, suspense and passion collide in an unyielding dance of survival and redemption. Who will survive the Trans-Mongolian Express?

Trans-Mongolian Express

By David L. Robbins,

What is this book about?

In the harrowing aftermath of Chernobyl's meltdown in 1986, the fate of Eastern Europe hangs by a thread.

From Beijing, American radiation scientist Lara, once a thorn in the Russian mob's side, is drawn back into the shadows of the Soviet Union on the Trans-Mongolian Express. She isn't alone. Anton, a Soviet scientist exiled for predicting Chernobyl's catastrophe, is on a quest to expose the truth. Amidst them, Timur, a Chechen giant fueled by vengeance, plots to destroy the already crumbling Soviet Union.

Suddenly, a murder on the remote tracks of the Gobi thrusts them into a deadly game of…


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