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Time to Be in Earnest

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  671 ratings  ·  96 reviews
In this intriguing and very personal book, part diary, part memoir, P. D. James considers the twelve months of her life between her 77th and 78th birthdays, and looks back on her earlier life.

With all her familiar skills as a writer she recalls what it was like to be a schoolgirl in the 1920s and 1930s in Cambridge, and then giving birth to her second daughter during the w
Published May 7th 2015 by Faber Faber (first published November 1st 1999)
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May 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am glad that I waited to read this after “Original Sin”. Yes this book has spoilers in it. So if you haven’t read the Dalgliesh series past “A Certain Justice” wait till after that to read this Autobiography. I read “A Certain Justice” a while ago so there were no spoilers for me.

From my perspective, this book, is that James was not afraid to mention that she was a Christian and attended C of E mass regularly. Also that she missed the use of “The Book of Common Prayer” and “The King James Bibl
Oct 31, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First off, I really love this writer. I used to purchase her books as they came out, then when hardcovers got a bit pricey for me, I went soft-covers and/or borrowed from library. Her books are weighty, often long, filled with detail, and sometimes take a while to 'take off.' She was, for me, an example of a literary author who wrote mysteries. So I am, and was a fan...

This book is part memoir, part diary, part biography. At the beginning, James speaks frankly about not keeping a diary throughou
Richard Thomas
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
Jul 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant, insightful, elegant and a wonderful, original memoir. I have read everything she ever wrote and am ready to reread her marvelous books. What a life and how modestly and appreciatively she lived it. Her take on popular culture, politics, the BBC, other authors, medicine, mental illness, justice, law, religion; it just covers any subject of interest to any thinking individual. And her feelings and beliefs are worth hearing. You will laugh out loud, recognize your own observations expres ...more
Jan 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Delightful and Insightful

I thoroughly enjoyed this autobiographical account: James calls it a “partial record of one year” (of her incredibly active and full life), but manages to reminisce enough so that we catch glimpses of a great deal more of it. Her musings range from her childhood experiences growing up in England, to religion, current events and, of course, fiction writing. She shares thoughts on it all— thoughts which are insightful, well articulated, and a pleasure to read. I enjoyed th
Mary Ann
Aug 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, re-reads
I re-read this gem after twenty years and liked it even more this time. The title is a quote from the great 18th century writer and lexicographer Samuel Johnson, " At seventy-seven it is time to be in earnest." Phyllis James wrote it in 1997 when she turned seventy-seven. It's not a conventional diary or memoir although there is plenty of autobiographical material. It's also reflections and musings on the art and craft of writing, not limited to the detective stories and three stand-alones for w ...more
Michael Tweed
Jul 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: rereading
P. D. James. Much missed. A must read for all her admirers.
Aug 04, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a most interesting book, especially for anyone who loves her books, as I do. The book is full of insights into her life, her thoughts, and the books she has written. The first half of the book was my favorite. The second half was a bit slow at times, but still wonderful. I loved the photos at the end as well. She was quite an amazing woman and writer!
Mar 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Mar 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jane Glen
Aug 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
If you are a P.D. James fan, don't miss out on this lovely autobiography. Written in diary format over the year she turned 77, it is a brilliant look at not just the author, but the amazing person. As she would talk about a book she had written, I would glance at my shelf and there it was, begging to be re-read. And so I am- some, if not all. This woman's energy is incredible. How I would have loved to hear her in person. I have long loved her books, now I love the author. ...more
Sarah  T
Oct 09, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Donna Farley
Jan 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
James never disappoints. Her prose is unfailingly lucid and elegant, her insights thought-provoking.
Aug 27, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Meh. She didn't need the money. She did a lot of name-dropping, and 'this is how wonderful my life as a successful author has made me and how popular I am' rather than reflections. She comes across to me as in insufferable snob, particularly about the fees for libraries. Now that she has money enough to buy any book she wants, she doesn't see it as a particular hardship for others to have to pay, although she does feel slightly badly about it. Bah.

I liked her better when she was catty about Agat
Jun 10, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book is gracefully and lucidly written, as one would expect. She is an opinionated person and I wish there wasn't quite so much about British politics, or so much name-dropping. Her energy in the chronicled year is impressive. One could wish that she had opened up more about her tragedies and regrets, including her very difficult marriage, but she is a reserved and very stiff-upper-lip person and what she presents in this fragment of memoir is carefully edited. The parts of the book I found ...more
Les Dangerfield
Dec 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although this record is for the paperback edition, I read this book on Kobo. An interesting read - one year in the life of P.D. James, her 78th, written in 1997-98. I am amazed at the pace of visiting and speaking engagements she maintained in her 78th year, as well as finishing one novel and writing the memoir, which she calls "a fragment of a biography." I like the idea of keep a diary/memoir in detail for just one year, rather than the commitment to an ongoing narrative. I am thinking of doin ...more
Carol Wakefield
Alternately fascinating and dull. Ms James uses the days in one year of her life as the basis for her biography describing episodes of her 77 th year and remembering and describing past events. The now parts— lectures given and attended, social engagements, meals sometimes in detail did not sustain my interest. Remembrances of her interesting life did.
Mar 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed reading this "behind the scenes" peek into an author's life, what goes on that inspires the mysteries, what other authors influenced P. D. James, and what led to any of her books to be televised. I took awhile to read this, but not because of how it was written. It was because I wanted to stop and look up the other authors mentioned and read about those various books. ...more
Nov 03, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
P.D. James is an excellent writer of mystery, not so much memoir. She wrote about her year age 77-78. I was impressed by her stamina and all of the functions she attends. However, the book is dry and she seems a bit of a cranky, judgement type. Reading about how she tours was interesting. I got very few insights from the book .

Fred R
Nov 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A year of diary entries from English mystery writer P.D. James. I enjoyed her uncombative Toryism of the 'I can't help but think more might have been lost than gained', and feel that this book has come down to us from a much more civilized time. ...more
Jan 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
P.D. James chronicles a breathtakingly busy life as one of Britain’s grand dames of literature. She weaves in reflections on her past, the art of the murder mystery and modern culture. In less artful hands, the account might turn discursive and jumbled. Not in hers.
Eric Gittins
Mar 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
A magnificent book by a wonderful person. While writing this book she was at the age of 77 still doing more than most 50-year-olds. There is so much in this book of help to aspiring writers that it should be a textbook for all writing classes in the English language.
Jan 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
most enjoyable parts: the opinions on writing crime fiction as a woman and the interspersed anecdotes of her early life and later career within the government. Paints a lot of her even though it is mainly a 2-year diary.
Aug 10, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting and different autobiography because it's written as a dairy. I gives you a peek into the thought and life of P.D. James. ...more
Melissa Gay
Nov 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great self-portrait of a mystery writer. Bravo, Miss James.
Nov 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
good perspective
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P. D. James, byname of Phyllis Dorothy James White, Baroness James of Holland Park, (born August 3, 1920, Oxford, Oxfordshire, England—died November 27, 2014, Oxford), British mystery novelist best known for her fictional detective Adam Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard.

The daughter of a middle-grade civil servant, James grew up in the university town of Cambridge. Her formal education, however, ended at

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