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Time To Be In Earnest: A Fragment Of Autobiography

3.93  ·  Rating Details ·  467 Ratings  ·  71 Reviews
On the day she turned seventy-seven, internationally acclaimed mystery writer P. D. James embarked on an endeavor unlike any other in her distinguished career: she decided to write a personal memoir in the form of a diary. Over the course of a year she set down not only the events and impressions of her extraordinarily active life, but also the memories, joys, discoveries, ...more
Paperback, 306 pages
Published February 27th 2001 by Ballantine Books (first published 1999)
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Richard Thomas
Mar 21, 2017 Richard Thomas rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this brief synthesis of autobiography, diary and literary criticism. The cool intellect of P D James comes over on every page. Her account of her childhood, married life and the sad descent of her husband into mental illness are illuminating. What is most impressive is the breadth and volume of her daily life in the year she describes. The contribution she made across everything she did was noteworthy and perhaps a reproach to those less public spirited. I finished the book ...more
Part diary, part memoire is, I think, the perfect recipe to enable the living to satisfy the fans, to avoid baring all, and to circumvent that rather dreadful cold ‘dead, stuffed, fish’ feeling.

This book also challenged me to think, recollect, and consider, ‘well, what did I do between August 1997 and August 1998? What, actually, did I achieve above and beyond my salary, above and beyond my day to day existence?’

That combination: asking what has happened today, and how one thought triggers ano
Felisa Rosa
Aug 20, 2015 Felisa Rosa rated it liked it
Shelves: autobiography
I can make a strong argument that P.D. James is the world's greatest mystery writer, but she falls short in the realm of memoirs. Time To Be In Earnest: A Fragment Of Autobiography has an innovative structure: James wrote a diary that spans from her 77th birthday to her 78th, and used her day-to-day experiences as jumping off points to, sometimes, reflect on writing, past eras of her life, the modern era, and crime. This seems like a good idea, but the daily accounts sometimes feel like dull tra ...more
This reminded me a bit of May Sarton's "At Eighty-two", though P.D. James at 78 seemed much more spry than did Sarton at 82. Several of the reviews quoted on the back cover of the book mention that we learn as much about James from what she leaves out as from what she includes. The decisions she made about what to write about are thus as interesting as the actual content.

She includes musings on various aspects of writing, the mystery genre, the difference between American and English fans, as we
Sarah  T
Oct 09, 2015 Sarah T rated it really liked it
I seldom read autobiography but loved this; P D James had such a distinctive, elegant voice that, as a huge fan of her novels, I found it a genuine pleasure to spend time in her company. It gave interesting insight into the life of a successful author and also some thoughts on the art of writing. The essay on Jane Austen's "Emma", included as an Appendix, was an unexpected bonus.
Donna Farley
Jan 13, 2017 Donna Farley rated it really liked it
James never disappoints. Her prose is unfailingly lucid and elegant, her insights thought-provoking.
Les Dangerfield
Dec 06, 2016 Les Dangerfield rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an interestingly structured memoir based around her diary for a year between 1997/98 and frequently using thoughts or events to digress into detail of various key periods and episodes in her life. Her language is a real pleasure to read and, even in her late seventies, she led an extraordinarily full and varied life full of vigour and energy. She has a tendency to be opinionated at times and perhaps in the second half of the book, sometimes gets a bit carried away with her views on this ...more
Mar 06, 2011 Bev rated it really liked it
Shelves: autobiography
Time to Be in Earnest: a fragment of autobiography is P. D. James's response to Dr. Johnson's advice that seventy-seven is "a time to be in earnest." The much celebrated and beloved writer of mystery novels has created a luminous memoir of one year of her life. During the course of that year she not only relates experiences of the current time, but travels in time to give the reader snapshots of her life. These snapshots are vivid--full of descriptive clarity and beautiful language, only to be e ...more
Laura Monroe
Jan 31, 2016 Laura Monroe rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography-memoir
In 1997, P.D. James began keeping a journal for a year--between her 77th and 78th birthdays. She planned that it would be a record of her year (without betraying any confidences) plus reflections on her life: her childhood, her education, and her writing career. The result is Time to Be in Earnest. As I was reading this book, I felt like I was having tea with a beloved aunt, who was reflecting on life and sharing what I needed to know going forward. It is clear that James has no idea what the fu ...more
Aug 18, 2013 Ange rated it it was amazing
Of course, I should like what she has to say, since I liked what her characters had to say.

"Every morning thought my school like I heard a reading from the King James Bible. There was, thank God, no Good News Bible, a version which is very bad news for anyone who cares for either religion or literature."

One quotation I would most like to see in any revised edition are the words of Henry James, writing of Anthony Trollope, "We trust novels to maintain us in the practice of great indignations and
Mar 09, 2015 Jo rated it really liked it
Time to Be in Earnest is an autobiography written by P. D. James in journal format, kept between her 77th to 78th years of life. In it, she tells of her beginnings as a writer, her experiences during the war, and her opinions on a hodge-podge of topics from the craft of writing to eight pieces of advice for book reviewers (“Be scathingly witty if you must, but never be deliberately cruel” is one I wish were followed more often) to the way the BBC ought to be run.

If you are looking for an autobi
Susan from MD
Jul 10, 2013 Susan from MD rated it really liked it
I really enjoy PD James' detective novels - both the Adam Dalgliesh and the Cordelia Grey series. I haven't read her stand-alone books, but will at some point, I'm sure.

This book was interesting - a combination one-year diary and memoir. The book doesn't flow together, but contains entries she made between August 1997 (when she turned 77) and August 1998. Although it is not a traditional memoir, it does talk about her life and her thoughts, as her obligations of the day remind her of things past
Dec 01, 2014 Robin rated it liked it
This book made me nervous the whole time I read it, because I kept thinking, "When is she going to write her next book? She's doing all these public appearances all the time, giving talks, getting awards, going to lunch, making speeches--but when will she ever write?" Spoiler alert: the whole year goes by and she never does. Aaaaaarrrrrgg.

I only recently became a PD James fan, thanks to "Death Comes to Pemberley." So, being a completist, now I have to read everything of hers. And I don't mean to
Mar 13, 2010 Cathy marked it as to-read
I didn't know this book existed - I'm so happy to have found out about it through goodreads. I attended an author reading with PD James and Ruth Rendall in Vancouver BC as part of the Writers' Festival. I was already a fan and it was such a pleasure to hear her talk about her books. Ruth Rendall was quite funny and I wasn't too sure about her books having read a few. But after 'meeting' her at this event I decided to give her books another go and I can say I enjoy her writing more. It was intere ...more
Feb 19, 2009 Phil rated it really liked it
I just finished the book last night. It is a diary kept for one year by the detective writer, P. D. James. Her purpose for writing it was to not only chronicle the 77th year of her life but to use it as a vehicle to fill in details of her life as a child, young adult newly married, young mother during WWII, and now well regarded writer.

She gives speeches, receives awards, visits friends, attends church, paricipates in the House of Lords, and remarks on the events of the day such as the death Pri
Apr 17, 2012 Kirstin rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
I expected not to like Time to Be In Earnest simply on the principle of it being an autobiography and therefore being navel-gazing. Consequently, I was happily surprised to really enjoy it.

I liked the format of the book--part daily diary, part lifelong history. I thought James combined the two well, going from a discussion of a minute detail of her life to the broader topic of, for instance, the purpose of the BBC, fairly effortlessly.

James referenced a number of events and people of whom I ha
Oct 23, 2013 Dave rated it liked it
The diary, really, of one year in the late 1990's (the year that Princess Diana's death happened). Nicely written. Not a real autobiography: lots of room for reminiscences and memories evoked of a long, long life (childhood, early education in a girls' school WW II spent in London, the success of a first novel, the death of a husband, the maturation of P.D. James' daughters...). All this, while writing diary notes about her current (late '90s) daily life for one calendar year: book-signings and ...more
Jan 13, 2012 Victoria rated it really liked it
I must preface this by saying P.D. James is my idol and role model, the author who most inspires me in my own writing. This autobiography, in which she journals her 77th year of life, allows her points of entry to talk about her childhood, her husband's mental illness and her work in the British government bureaucracy. Along the way, she talks about what makes a good mystery and the importance of literature in our culture. Reading this book was like sitting down with Ms. James for a good, long c ...more
Jan 09, 2013 Lara rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012
An original format - explicitly a diary of a year in P.D. James's life in her 70's. But she takes this starting off point to range widely, to reveal parts of her life, and to digress on matters that interest her.

Her energy and enthusiasm is awe-inspiring, for any age. A bright, positive, intelligent thinker, it's not surprising Phyllis is so much in demand for book-signings and talks.

James was less revealing about being married to someone with a mental illness. In part I admired her - especiall
May 18, 2008 Andrew rated it really liked it
A fun read and interesting idea. P. D. James, my favorite "light" writer (I say light because she is a classic murder mystery writer, but she is anything but light in her ability to turn a sentence or plot), writes an autobiographical diary for a year, covering the mundane and anything else. Whether she's writing on her cat, the writing process, the politics of the Booker prize committee, being in the House of Lords, her childhood, or how much noise bothers her, she is always interesting. I part ...more
Nov 10, 2009 Vilo rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book, which is written as journal entries during one year of the life of a mystery author so revered she is a Dame in England (I didn't know that after you are knighted or made a dame you can attend the House of Lords and make speeches, etc.). I learned a lot about writing, a lot about British history, and a little of Ms. James' personal life and views. I noted the authors she enjoys. She is heavily involved in civic affairs and writer's organizations. It might be hard/uninteresti ...more
Mar 15, 2009 Carolyn rated it it was amazing
I heard P.D. James being interviewed on NPR many years ago, and was intrigued. Not having been a "detective fiction" reader, it took me a while to pick up on of her books, but as soon as I did, I was hooked. So far, I have not been able to find murder mysteries that I like nearly as well as hers. Having read everything fictional she has written, I finally read this autobiography. If possible, I may have enjoyed it more than her fiction! She is an excellent writer, and the insights into not only ...more
Aug 17, 2011 Alison rated it liked it
Having seen PD James on Anne Robinson's book programme earlier in the year, I was intrigued to read more about her. What a fascinating woman! I was exhausted just reading about all the travelling around and talks she does. There's also a good reminder to make time for friends and family and to appreciate the good things that we encounter. I could have done with a dictionary with me while I was reading it - I thought my vocabulary was OK but she used lots of words I've not come across before - su ...more
Mar 14, 2011 Linda rated it really liked it
Shelves: biog-and-memoir
Subtitled, “A Fragment of Autobiography,” this book is the diary of her 78th year, from October 1997-October 1998. She discusses all kinds of things besides her daily activities, and she is a very busy woman who is also a member of the House of Lords. Her thoughts on her successful mystery stories and how she wrote them make me want to go back and re-read her books. She gave many talks and lectures to local groups in London, and traveled on a book publicity tour in the U.S. I thoroughly enjoyed ...more
Paula Dembeck
May 10, 2013 Paula Dembeck rated it it was amazing
This is a personal memoir, what James calls "a fragment of autobiography", that takes the form of a diary.

Written in a diary format from her seventy-seventh to her seventy-eighth year, it moves back and forth in time during which James shares many events and times in her life, some of which were filled with joy and others which were very painful.

She reflects on her extraordinary writing career, events from her youth and her school years, times during the war, her husband's mental health problems
Oct 28, 2016 Kyle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A Fascinating Life

I never realized the status P. D. James achieved in England (a member of the House of Lords and a Governor of the BBC), and I would have guessed that such social mobility was unlikely there. It is remarkable to see her energy and vigor at age 77. As you would expect, there are lots of interesting insights into life and writing. She seems like she was a lovely woman and yet a force to be reckoned with.
Sep 06, 2016 Virginia rated it it was amazing
Such a great read! Her love of the english contry confirms the beauty described in her books.
Dec 14, 2014 Happy rated it it was ok
Reading about other people is always interesting but I found the format of this autobiography a bit tedious - day by day entries.
For me, reading this book (even though it was 15 years old) was special because I picked the book off the library shelf and thought 'PD James must be very elderly by now'. Checking this out on the internet I discovered she died a month earlier. It was almost a celebration of her life. RIP.
Dec 01, 2007 Pat rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone
It was kind of interesting to read this book at the same time that I read The Diana Chronicles since P.D. James wrote this diary-like book during the year of Diana's death. I found the book fascinating, probably because I find it so interesting to have a glimpse into how an author thinks. It is not hard to see where the books come from - the worldview that she shows in her diary feeds both the Adam Dahgleish mysteries and, especially, Children of God.
Feb 15, 2016 Joan rated it it was amazing
I have always been a fan of P.D. James, I have several of her books. She was asked to write an
Autobiography which she did not especially want to do. She decided on her 77th birthday she
would keep a diary for one year. Now this is how to write a diary!! By doing this we learned
about her birth, school years, family and accomplishments and much more. In addition she included many photographs which were so appreciated. I would highly recommend this book.
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P.D. (Phyllis Dorothy) James was the author of over twenty books, most of which have been filmed and broadcast on television in the United States and other countries. She spent thirty years in various departments of the British Civil Service, including the Police and Criminal Law Department of Great Britain's Home Office. She served as a magistrate and as a governor of th
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