Red Glove by Holly Black: Audio vs Print book

I was introduced to Holly Black through the Spiderwick series. Though meant for younger children, I adored the creepy but magical world that Holly co-created with illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi. I read Holly’s first book in the Curse Worker series, White Cat, back in 2010 — didn’t like it too much — so that probably explains why I only picked up its sequel Red Glove last month.

To be truthful, I only picked up Red Glove (Margaret K. McElderberry Books, 2011) because I was interested in trying out an audiobook and upon seeing that actor Jesse Eisenberg was narrating the novel, I figured it was worth taking the chance. 

redgloveIt’s been years since I’ve listened to an audiobook. Cassette tapes were still the de rigueur format and Hollywood celebrities were not touted as narrators for hyped-up books. Maybe it’s my uninformed biases coming out, but I always had the impression audiobooks were marketed for people who weren’t really into reading, or for those who had physical impediments to reading but still wanted to ‘read’ the books.

But there must be something to them, as it’s 2013 and audiobooks are still as popular a format as ever. Maybe it’s because of the improvements in audio media, or maybe it’s because they fill the need of multitaskers, or maybe because people genuinely enjoy them — I wanted to give audiobooks a try and see if my opinion would change.

Red Glove‘s story lends itself well to an audiobook. It continues the story of Cassel Sharpe, as first-person narrator, who’s a teenage boy coming to terms of the secrets of his family and his own past. He is a curse worker, a persons who is able to change other people’s appearance or emotion or dreams, etc. merely through skin-to-skin contact. In the universe of Red Glove, curse workers are villified, and find themselves in mobster-like families and situations. Cassel belongs to a family of curse workers and this book opens with a tragedy that has beset his clan.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that, while I’m not a fan of Mr. Eisenberg, I do appreciate that he actually acts in his reading of the novel. He alters his voices depending on the character, and even changes his tone and voice volume if he’s reading internal thoughts, as opposed to spoken dialogue. It also does help that he’s a younger actor playing a young character. While it possibly doesn’t make a difference in many novels, there’s something about the quality of his voice that convinces me that it’s actually the character speaking, and not just an actor reading these lines in a recording studio. He’s able to capture Cassel’s irreverence, recklessness, and insecurity merely through his voice.

And this is where I feel I need to clarify that while I think Jesse Eisenberg sounds like the perfect Cassel, I do not physically visualize the actor as Cassel. Maybe it’s all those years of listening to Japanese drama CDs; I’m thrilled whenever I hear Mamoru Miyano voice one of my favorite characters, but do I see the actor’s face each time I do? Nope, not at all. In my head, there’s a distinction between the person and the voice. It makes me sound like a terrible person, as I’m dehumanizing the actor in favor of their voice, but that’s how I’ve always just processed that aural input.

As you can figure out though, listening to the audiobook didn’t work for me. I felt like I had to force myself to sit and concentrate while listening — which felt tedious and the exact opposite of the relaxed feeling that I’ve come to expect when I read a book. I was totally into the story, but my attention just kept drifting away so I would even go back and rewind to points where I fell off the listening wagon. I admit that I listen to music or talk radio as white noise (to block out co-worker chatter), so maybe when I’m trying to be clever and multi-task by listening to an audiobook while doing other tasks, my brain just focuses all of its energies on what I’ve deemed as top priority and doesn’t even bother processing the rest of the stimuli?


Anyhow, I breezed through the rest of the book (in print) in a matter of several hours. In reading, I feel I can go as slowly or as quickly as I want. With most young adult fiction, I’ve found that I could go through an average-length one (400-500 pages) in 1-3 days. It’s easier to lose myself in the world that the author created; words rushing and stumbling across each other in the page. For books that are more lyric, or where I’m having some difficulty with the language, I could spend a bit more time going through it. For instance, I read Persuasion last week and I felt it took me forever! I’m not used to Austen-speak anymore; it never took me more than a couple of days to finish any of my English lit readings, I’m become rusty.

So while I’m impressed with the quality and relative availability of audiobooks, I think I’m gonna stick to the written formats for a while. There’s so many books that I want to get through and I’d rather enjoy them in a version that will give me the most pleasure for my buck.