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Time to Be in Earnest


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Time to Be in Earnest is P. D. James's extraordinary memoir of her early life and time starting out as a novelist, as well as diaries recording her in old age.

About the Author

P. D. James was born in Oxford in 1920 and educated at Cambridge High School for Girls. From 1949 to 1968 she worked in the National Health Service and subsequently in the Home Office, first in the Police Department and later in the Criminal Policy Department. All that experience has been used in her novels. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of the Royal Society of the Arts and has served as a Governor of the BBC, a member of the Arts Council, where she was Chairman of its Literary Advisory Panel, on the Board of the British Council and as a magistrate in Middlesex and London. She has won awards for crime writing in Britain, America, Italy and Scandinavia, including the Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster Award. She has received honorary degrees from seven British universities, was awarded an OBE in 1983 and was created a life peer in 1991. In 1997 she was elected President of the Society of Authors.She lives in London and Oxford and has two daug


In 1997, on the eve of her 77th birthday, noted mystery novelist James (A Certain Justice) decided to keep a diary for the first time ever, recording one year in her life. The result is this "fragment of autobiography," a mix of memoir, ruminations on everything from her writing career to Princess Diana's death, and literary criticism (James is a passionate admirer of Jane Austen and includes in an appendix a speech she gave to the Jane Austen Society on "Emma Considered as a Detective Story"). While James confesses to loving gossip in other people's diaries, she admits that her own has "little to offer in the way of titillating revelations." Although her discretion about the painful periods in her life (in particular, her husband's mental illness) is admirable in this Age of Indecent Exposure, it also makes for an impersonal and rather dull diary. The reader never gets a sense of the true James and the events that shaped her as a writer and human being. For larger collections.[Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/00.]DWilda Williams, "Library Journal" Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Adult/High School-Keeping in mind the words of Samuel Johnson, "At seventy-seven it is time to be in earnest," James decided to record feelings and observations about her world from her 77th to her 78th birthday. She wanted to capture the events, thoughts, and emotions of one year not only for her family but also as a record for herself. Much more than an account of day-to-day events though, she gives brief insights into what it was like to grow up in wartime England, her ideas about authors and the craft of writing, and the changes in the treatment of women. Mundane events such as catching the Oxford Tube mingle with more exciting activities such as book signing in Dallas. Readers looking for intimate revelations might be disappointed by the tone of her writing. In the prologue, she says, "There is much that I remember that is painful to dwell upon. I see no need to write about these things." And yet, as she speaks about her husband and his mental illness or the unhappiness of her parents' marriage, she doesn't gloss over some very sad moments. An enjoyable choice for fans of this British mystery writer.-Peggy Bercher, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

James's fans will eagerly devour every word of this insightful and witty account of a year in the life of the master mystery author In the diary she began on her 77th birthday, in August 1997, James comfortably segues from daily activities into reminiscences about her childhood, early forays into writing and her career as a civil servant in Britain. She also weighs in on a variety of subjects, including the movie Titanic (the "usual Hollywood anti-British bias" irritated her), the publishing industry (promising novels are "promoted, packaged, and sold like a new perfume") and London's Millennial Dome, which inspired her "Dome Pome" (which begins, "O Dome Gigantic, Dome immense/ Built in defiance of common sense"). James reveals herself to be proper, dignified and reserved, but she doesn't reveal much more: readers expecting a traditional diary or spilled secrets are bound to be dissatisfied, though they can't say they weren't warned; in her prologue, James announces that she'll neither rehash painful memories nor record "the events of every day." The painful memories no doubt relate to her late husband's long battle with mental illness, which she mentions often but never fully explores. It's just as well she sticks to the latter promise, for while many of her activities will interest a wide range of readers, there are times when her musings do little to contradict her claim that she is simply "an elderly grandmother who writes traditional English detective fiction." 16 pages of photos not seen by PW. 50,000 first printing. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

"Deeply moving . . . . Page after page recalls a vanished world."-- "The New York Times Book Review""A cornucopia of discernment, judgment, and wisdom." --"San Francisco Chronicle""James neither overintellectualizes nor sentimentalizes. . . . Writing about commonplace events, [she] gives them weight and substance and so confirms their reality, investing them with a radiance that illuminates this fragment of autobiography." --"The Washington Post"

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