Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Review: Time to Be in Earnest, by P. D. James


Title: Time to Be in Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography
Author: P. D. James
Publisher: Faber & Faber, 1999. Paperback by Ballantine, 2001. 269 pages.
Source: Library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
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, and crises of a lifetime. This enchantingly original volume is the result.

Time to Be in Earnest offers an intimate portrait of one of most accomplished women of our time. Here are vivid, revealing accounts of her school days in Cambridge in the 1920s and '30s, her happy marriage and the tragedy of her husband's mental illness, and the thrill of publishing her first novel, Cover Her Face, in 1962. As she recounts the decades of her exceptional life, James holds forth with wit and candor on such diverse subjects as the evolution of the detective novel, her deep love of the English countryside, her views of author tours and television adaptations, and her life-long obsession with Jane Austen. Wise and frank, engaging and graceful, this "fragment of autobiography" will delight and surprise P. D. James's admirers the world over.

My Review:   
Time to Be in Earnest is an odd sort of hybrid, and does a number of things, none of them perhaps perfectly, but all of them better than might be expected, to make an intriguing whole. The sub-heading is about right: it's a fragmentary autobiography, and the author has made little attempt to be complete or chronological. An attentive reader can fill in most of the blanks, but don't look here for details about all aspects of James' life.

In addition to being an odd form of memoir (I think that might be a more accurate descriptor than "autobiography"), the book is a meditation on all sorts of topics, from politics to literary criticism. It gives the reader a glimpse into the author's political views, which may or may not be a good thing (she's not awful, but I would like to argue with her over some points). It also gives a look into the publishing world, at least as it used to be. Written from August 1997 to August 1998, the book long precedes the changes that have rocked publishing since about 2010.

For me, the most interesting bits are the places where James critiques, or just meditates on, the works of other authors, living and dead. There again, I don't agree with everything--I think she sells Dorothy Sayers short, but I know less of Sayers' personal life and might easily be proved wrong. But her thoughts on detective fiction are food for thought, as she sees it moving very much toward more police procedural, and the necessity of accuracy in all matters of policing. I am thinking that the "cozy mystery" trend hadn't taken hold yet then, since much of what is selling now is far from what she describes, and often plays fast and loose with the realities of police work today.*

Finally, if for nothing else, the book is worth reading for the talk she gave, reprinted as an appendix, analyzing Jane Austen's Emma as a detective story. I could only wish I had read Emma more recently, but the analysis is fascinating, and makes me want to re-read Emma.

*Note: I am a bit guilty of this myself. It's hard to have a good amateur detective and still give due respect to reality.

My Recommendation:
There is something in here for many kinds of readers. Fans of P.D. James' mysteries will want to read it for a closer look at the author. There are also bits of history regarding both WWII and the realities of life in England before the war. Finally, for many as for me, there are the insights into a wide range of books--and also into the selection of the Booker Prize winners. Not a must-read, but worth the time invested. I could wish the paperback had larger print, but that says more about me than anything else.

FTC Disclosure: I bought Time to Be in Earnest second-hand, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." 

Monday, August 21, 2017


The Ninja Librarian is in Oregon, watching the eclipse.

As a treat while you wait for our return, a few photos of the Eastern Oregon landscape, from earlier trips.

I tend to think of eastern Oregon as fairly flat--a rolling lava field much like eastern Washington (which is also not really that way--that's just what you see from I90). And it can be.
Oregon looking prairie-like aside from the volcanic artifact that is Fort Rock.
But an awful lot of it is more like this. Still volcanic, but not so flat.
US 395 near John Day, Oregon.
 Oregon can also look like this:
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Painted Hills
Interesting contrasts between the eroding hills, the volcanic butte behind, and the irrigated valley between!

We'll be looking for places more like what's behind the Painted Hills, for the best view of the eclipse!
And finally, Eastern Oregon can also look like this.

See you in a few days!

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Photo Friday: Glacier Peak Wilderness

A couple of weeks ago, I did a 6-day backpack trip with my husband and eldest son (ES) on the east side of Glacier Peak (in Washington State; not to be confused with Glacier National Park). After a good snow year, there was lots of water, a fair collection of mosquitoes, and an overwhelming abundance of wildflowers. Here's a quick trip report with a lot of pretty pictures.

For those who like more detail on routes: We hiked the Phelps Creek Trail to Spider Meadows, climbed the Spider Glacier through Spider Gap and down to Lyman Lake. Crossed Cloudy and Suiattle Passes to pick up the PCT for a few miles, then the trail through Buck Creek Pass and back down to the Chiwawa River to complete the near-loop.

Day One: 
We arrived at the trailhead, after a long and slow dirt road (the last 2.5 miles were not at all appropriate for a small sedan, but we did it anyway), in time for lunch. There were a startling number of cars in the parking area, but it was Sunday and we had faith, well-placed as it turned out, that most would be leaving that day.
Couldn't help noticing most of the other cars were SUVs.
There were great views at the trailhead (the photo above just hints at it), but the trail dove right away into thick forest, where we began almost at once to see the wildflowers that were to be such a marker of this trip.
After a couple of hours (maybe 5 1/2 miles), we began to glimpse what we had come for. It wasn't a long hike, but we were happy to know that camp would be near.
ES contemplates the view at the bottom of Spider Meadows
The campsite we claimed was about perfect: right on the edge of the meadow with a view up at the larger peaks and the next day's route. 

Day Two
We woke to frost on the flowers, but the sun eventually hit the bottom of the valley, and we moved off through the garden.
We will be climbing up around to the left of the grey outcrop and then behind it to the right of the higher brown-and-snow peak to a pass that can't be seen from here.
The trail first led us through the meadow, at a very easy grade, before we crossed Phelps Creek (not scary, but ES and I both got our feet wet). Then it began to climb with a disconcerting directness!
Gaining elevation fast.
We eventually ran out of trail, and continued straight up the glacier. It's little, without crevasses or other challenges. It may in fact be a permanent snowfield, but the map claims glacier.
ES and the spouse head for the pass.
We hit the saddle in time for an early lunch. Given the view, I wouldn't have lunched anywhere else. If you look very, very closely, you can see the summit of Mt. Baker in the low spot to the left of the double peak in the center of the skyline. Below us the Upper Lyman Lakes showed themselves to be the stark pools left behind the retreat of a glacier. We have a long way to go down, but the snowfields prove our salvation--we can slide most of the way, thus sparing our knees, though at some cost of frozen backsides.
I'm not sure when the glacier covered the lake area, but I'd be willing to guess we are talking a century or less.
Lower Lyman is also a settling-pond for glacial silt! Not only does the color give it away, but we could see the silt in the shallows, and the path the inlet has carved through it.

Day Three
We found a camp on the far shore of Lyman Lake, only later discovering that there were much nicer camps elsewhere. I advocated a move, but the guys were too settled. In the morning, after exploring along the west side of the lake up to the inlet--an impressive cascade tumbling from the lakes above--we headed up toward Cloudy Pass.
Some of the best flowers grew at Cloudy Pass, but also the best mosquitoes, and some rather impressive horseflies.
From the pass, we had a phenomenal view back to where we had been (Lyman Lake is visible at the bottom, and Spider Gap is the low spot on the ridge above the lake).
Looks like a long way.
There were also tantalizing hints of the big show, what we had really come for.
ES pauses to contemplate the big white thing.
We made this a very short day, stopping just below Suiattle Pass at a campsite with a fantastic view. We spent the afternoon vacationing--naps, reading in the tent, and just poking around a little until dinnertime.
Sunset on Glacier Peak. At 10,541', it's not the tallest volcano in the state, but it is beautiful. Last eruption was in 1700.
Day Four
Began this day very early, in order to catch sunrise on the mountain. Since it was late July, and we were very far north, that meant a 5 a.m. rising time. In most of our camps, we didn't get direct sun until much later, but it was light until 10 p.m., and light again shortly after 5, so we didn't make much use of our headlamps.
Sunrise from the same spot, not so very many hours later.
This day was our longest hiking day, with a lot of ups and downs as we had to cross a couple of drainages and climb to Buck Creek Pass. Along the way, we topped out on the imaginatively named Middle Ridge, and followed a use trail up the ridge in search of views. We found a sea of lupine.
There's a trail along just above tree line on that distant ridge. Next time, I'll go that way.
We also found views of the the mountain. Photographers in heaven!
Just before dropping to our camp (which had no views, alas, but was a short walk from this spot), we crossed a steep meadow white with Pasque flowers, bistort, and valerian, with a few asters and an occasional red paintbrush. And a volcano.
That deep scar below the glacier was the source of interest when winds kicked up clouds of dust--probably mostly ash.
Day Five
We planned a short backpacking day on this one, so that we could do some dayhiking to explore the high ridges. We left camp early to follow a trail along the ridge toward High Pass, a route we'd heard of from other hikers on this trip. It proved to be yet another scenic highlight.
Flower gardens and volcanoes, on top of Liberty Cap
Steep slopes and waist-high flowers.
There's a trail under there somewhere.
Continuing to skirt the top of the ridge. We started running into snowfields along in here.

 We could have gone a little farther, but the route to High Pass traverses high, steep snowfields above a drop-off (on the left in the photo below). That's not something to do without an ice axe. So instead, we climbed a knob above the trail, where we had 360-degree views.
Slightly distorted panorama of what we could see from our high knob, looking south and west.
 And, of course, the knob was covered with flowers.
We returned to camp in time for a late lunch. After a nap, we moved our camp a few miles closer to the trailhead, to make the next (final) day's hike easier. That last camp had the advantage of being the only one that was essentially mosquito-free, being well below the snow line and much drier.

Day Six
Final day. We had seen signs warning us that the section of trail we would be hiking this final day had been burned over the previous fall, and might be hard to follow. There were also warnings that the bridge over the Chiwawa River was out, and we worried about that off and on the whole way, knowing that it wouldn't be an option to turn around and go back. In the event, the trail had been cleared of deadfall before we reached it, and we were able to be intrigued by the burn area, rather than stymied by it. 
There were patches that burned quite intensely.
As always after a fire, it takes very little time for green things to start poking through the ash.
 The "destroyed" bridge proved, like the burn area, to be no obstacle at all. I wouldn't want to have to ford the river there, but in fact the bridge was collapsed, but solid, and provided a safe and easy crossing.

In the last mile, the trail gave us one last gift, in the form of a patch of huckleberries. Thus fortified, we were able to make it to the car, and on out to the nearest burger and shake.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!