Man-listening-to-Gramophone-DetailedA programmer on Mobileread has come out with a new Calibre plugin that will enable text-to-speech from Calibre’s book viewer software. The plugin uses Windows’s built-in text-to-speech system so only works on Windows, and is pretty primitive thus far—the programmer said he just wrote it over a weekend and called it a “very rough alpha.” Still, it shows some promise.

To install it, download the zip file from the Mobileread forum post, then launch Calibre. Click on the gears-meshing “Preferences” icon at the top right of the screen,  then click on the green puzzle piece “Plugins” at the bottom of this window. Choose “Load plugin from file” at lower right, then navigate to where you saved that zip file. You don’t need to unzip it; Calibre takes care of all that.

Calibre will give you a warning about plugins potentially containing malicious software. This one probably doesn’t, but it’s worth remembering any time you install a third-party tool.

Once you’ve installed it, you may need to restart Calibre for it to show up. Once you have, pick a book and double-click it to launch Calibre’s e-book viewer, then look at the bottom of the sidebar of icons on the left. At the bottom, you’ll find three new options: “play/pause,” “select mode,” and “stop.” (You may need to resize the viewer window to give them room to show up.)

Hitting “play/pause” will start your computer reading at the top of the current screen; it will highlight the current paragraph as it reads. “Select mode” will allow you to select individual paragraphs to be read aloud, and “stop” will stop reading. It uses whatever text-to-speech software you have installed on Windows—the basic system software, if nothing else. You can change the settings for that in the “Speech Recognition” control panel on Windows; in Windows 10, simply hit the start button and type “Speech Recognition” and pick the option that says “Control Panel” underneath it.

When I tried it with either the male or female Windows system voice, it read out the text with strange, William Shatner-like pauses in odd places. “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of…number four, Privet Drive were proud to say that they were…perfectly normal, thank you very much.” But that’s probably an artifact of the way Windows does text-to-speech itself.

Even though major e-readers like the Kindle Windows app don’t support it, this is far from the only text-to-speech option available for e-books on Windows computers. If you’re not using Calibre, the free Natural Reader application can use the Windows system voices to read EPUB files, and does so without the awkward pauses I noticed in Calibre (though it does have its own other awkward pauses and timing issues). FBReader also has a text-to-speech plugin available. Of course, you’d have to crack the DRM on commercial DRM-laden e-books to use it with these systems, for which you’d probably be using Calibre anyway.

I’m not a huge fan of text-to-speech, as the “uncanny valley” effect of computer voices tends to pull me out of the book. But for those who don’t mind that, and don’t want to bother with additional software, it’s good that Calibre now has that option available, too. Hopefully the plugin will improve as the programmer continues to work on it.

(Found via The Digital Reader.)


  1. Mac users might use the App Store app and search for “text to speech.” Since text to speech is built into OS X, there are quite a few such apps. Check out the descriptions and reviews to find what’s best for you.

    I’d suggest looking for one that can output in an audiobook format. Why get stuck in front of your computer listening when it’s a nice day and you could be out walking and listening on your smartphone?

    Text to speech is also great if you have some health issue that makes reading difficult. I was once so sick, I spent an entire day lying in bed, utterly miserable, listening to a book via text-to-speech. I didn’t even have the energy to read.

    Finally, there are free sources of audiobooks, including:

    Their human readers are more natural than text to speech. Both have smartphone apps that make downloading and listening easier.

    Keep in mind that, while Librivox depends on volunteer readers, many are quite good. The one for Anne of Green Gables sounds just like the young Anne might have sounded. The one for Mark Twain’s Roughing It also fits the part perfectly. Librivox is also experimenting with having several readers for a book, with each taking a part. You may find you like that.

    Finally, if you’re a writer, listening to what you write via text to speech is a good way to catch typos that your eyes may fail to catch.

    –Mike Perry, Inkling Books

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