Magazine article Newsweek

Tape Ate My Homework

Magazine article Newsweek

Tape Ate My Homework

Article excerpt

Byline: David Gates

Like most NEWSWEEK writers, I'm a quick study. Somebody dies whom you know a little about, you take a couple of hours to eke out familiarity with solid fact, and you kick in the piece. But unlike most of my colleagues, I'm a slow learner when it comes to practicalities. I hope this year has finally taught me one thing: when it comes to the tools of your trade, get the best, no matter what the cost.

This past summer I did an interview with Philip Roth; we sat in his agent's office, my Radio Shack cassette recorder on the table between us. We spoke for about 45 minutes, after which I brought the tape to a friend's summer house, and settled in to transcribe it. What I heard was the aural equivalent of a blizzard pelting your windshield, with the noise of the machine's innards grinding away in the foreground and, in the far distance, some voicelike noises. I must have spent six hours going over those 45 minutes of tape, reconstructing what Roth had said, and had to give up on some of his best remarks -- orphans of the storm. …

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