77 North Washington Street

PHOEBE-LOU Adams served on the staff of The Atlantic Monthly for more than half of the twentieth century, longer than anyone else with the exception of the ninth editor, Edward Weeks (to whom she was married for the last eighteen years of his life). She arrived, fresh from The Hartford Courant, in 1944, took up book reviewing in 1952, served for a while as our poetry editor, and has published in these pages reviews of some 4,000 volumes. Now she has decided to retire. Her last column, written in her eighty-first year, appears in this issue. Here is a random sampling of her fearless, impassioned opinions over the decades:


Uncommon Reader
An interview with Phoebe-Lou Adams, whose last column appears in this issue, and a sampling of five decades of her Brief Reviews.

"This tempest in the academic teapot has to do with a loathsome instructor in a small 'progressive' college.... Miss McCarthy is a brilliant writer with a rare talent for corrosive satire, but in this novel her acid touch has become extreme acidosis" (The Groves of Academe, by Mary McCarthy).

"But nobody is perfect, and when the sage of Baltimore announces that 'poetry is essentially an effort to elude facts, whereas prose is essentially a means of unearthing and exhibiting them,' one can only murmur, Boobus Americanus" (The American Scene, by H. L. Mencken).

"His point of view, when one has penetrated the linguistic brush pile, is tolerant exasperation with practically everything. At his best, Mr. Lennon can achieve overtones of satire, parody, obscenity, political comment, and literary reminiscence in a single cannily distorted word" (A Spaniard in the Works, by John Lennon).

"Reminds me of the time I worked in a mental hospital, where the worst of several available disasters was to be cornered by a patient -- the kind put there merely because the family had become unendurably bored with his conversation -- and compelled to listen to a life history told without humor, without discrimination, but with the absolute conviction that the speaker was the center of everybody's universe, and with total recall" (La Bâtarde, by Violette Leduc).

One of PLA's great admirers, a former book editor for Time magazine, who knew reviewers, pronounced her simply "a marvel." This marvel will be greatly missed, along with her interesting hats and the pungent smoke of cigarillos that tended to billow about her head and shoulders. We will just have to do without her saucy prose style, her passion for archaeology, her equable intolerance of nonsense.


Photograph by Martin Cornel.

The Atlantic Monthly; August 2000; 77 North Washington Street - 00.08; Volume 286, No. 2; page 4.