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Chapter 4. Reading Your Stuff > Listening to Books

4.5. Listening to Books

You might have looked over your Kindle the first day you bought it and asked yourself, “Why in the world does a reading device have speakers and a headphone jack?” Your Kindle is at best an awkward music player, so listening to music isn’t the reason.

The speakers and headphone jack are there for when you want your Kindle to do the reading. Amazon calls this their text-to-speech feature. Basically, almost any document on your Kindle can be read out loud by the device.

It’s true that your Kindle’s voice won’t exactly make James Earl Jones nervous about his narrating gigs, but its text-to-speech technology is entirely functional. Whether it’s for long drives or laying back on a beach chair with your eyes closed and headphones in, most of what you buy from Amazon can be read by you or read to you.


The text-to-speech ability of the Kindle, a favorite of the non-sighted community, quickly became controversial after launch. You see, publishers make a lot of money from audio books, and they didn’t love the idea of the Kindle basically giving away (albeit computer-narrated) audio books for free with every Kindle book.

Amazon responded by giving publishers the opportunity to turn off the text-to-speech ability for each book they sell. So if a book doesn’t allow text-to-speech (the text-to-speech options will be grayed out), the publisher is to blame.

4.5.1. Using Text-to-Speech

To start using text-to-speech while reading something, press the Aa key and choose “turn on”. It might take a moment, but soon enough your Kindle will start reading to you through the speakers on the back. Use the volume rocker on the upper right side of your Kindle if it’s too loud or too quiet. Plug in some headphones if you want privacy.

One really cool thing about text-to-speech is how it changes pages while it reads. This means you can read a book, turn on text-to-speech and listen for a while, then go back to normal reading from the point where your Kindle’s voice left off. You could even use this feature to have your kid follow along with the voice, hearing how the words are pronounced as your Kindle reads them.


If you find the idea of a man’s voice more soothing than a woman’s voice, press the Aa button while your Kindle is reading to you and choose “male”. Change it back by choosing “female” (Figure 4-11).

You can also slow down or speed up the rate at which your Kindle reads to you by using the “slower” or “faster” options.

Figure 4-11. Once text-to-speech has started you can change its speed or the gender of the voice using the options pictured here. Press Aa to get these options.

At any point while your Kindle is reading to you, you can pause or turn off the text-to-speech by pressing Aa and choosing the corresponding option. It’s not at all clear what the difference is between “pause” and “turn off”, but it does appear that resuming text-to-speech works faster if you’ve used the “pause” option.

4.5.2. Books

If you prefer James Earl Jones’ voice to that of Code E. Computron, you’ll be glad to know your Kindle can play Audible audio books, too. ( is owned by Amazon, so it’s not surprising.) Audible’s book selection is second to none, so the audio book you’re looking for is probably available on your Kindle.

But you can’t shop for Audible books using your Kindle. Instead, you’ll have to shop the website, download the files, then upload them to your Kindle.

In the sidebar “The Kindle Files” on page 59, you read about the file folders your Kindle uses to organize its stuff. One of the folders you see when you connect your Kindle to your computer is called Audible. Once you’ve purchased an Audible book, copy it to this folder and eject the Kindle drive from your computer.

Now, when you go into your book list, the Audible book shows up with an audio tag to the left of it. Open the book and you get a page with a description of the book and audio controls like those pictured in Figure 4-12. Use the joystick to manage these controls. (You can also press Space to pause or resume playback.)

Figure 4-12. This is what the controls look like while playing an Audible book.


Any MP3s that you put in the Audible folder will show up in your book list. This means you could put your favorite song or podcast (Section 6.2 on page 118) in the Audible folder and easily access it from the book list.

There is one other minor detail that needs adjusting when you play your first Audible book on your Kindle. Audible books use digital rights management, meaning only authorized devices are allowed to play them. Trying to play that first book pops up an error message telling you that your Kindle isn’t authorized to play it.

But following that message, your Kindle shows you a new message with a chance to type in your Audible user name and password, which gives you full access to this and all future Audible books. As long as you don’t use books purchased from another Audible account, you shouldn’t ever see this error message again.

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