Using Bookworm to Read Your Ebooks

How to read your electronic books

The problem

A lot of electronic books are produced in either PDF or Epub format. While there may be some accessible alternatives to open them on your Windows PC, they might not be free.

Or, you may not be happy with your current ebook-reader and want to test other alternatives. What’s out there for you?


First, reading books is the only way you can keep abreast with what is taking place in the world. Books are, from ancient times, the depositaries of human knowledge. So as a student or a professional, you must have some program that helps you handle them.

Secondly, your ability to open books of various formats is key to your research:

  • You do not have to read the whole book to extract that precious nugget of knowledge you are after;
  • You should be able to work with a book’s index or table of contents;
  • You want your book-reader to be familiar. Using the interface of Windows programs of having,
    • Controls where you expect them;
    • An accessible menubar, toolbars and text window; and
    • A built-in help system.1

The app we are going to look at is the Bookworm developed by Musharraf Omer.

Where to get it

You can download Bookworm from this page and install it in the usual way:

  • By running the downloaded file;
  • Follow the on-screen instructions;
  • After installation, run the program.

And that’s it.

The program is distributed as a 64-bit and 32-bit formats. Plus, there is a portable version in case you do not want to install. This means you can just download the archive file, extract it to some directory on your computer and run the executable.

Using Bookworm

Bookworm is straightforward to use:: after launching, you are presented with a two-pane window. The left pane contains the Contents section of a book, while the right pane contains the book pages.

The Bookworm window

So if you load a book, its table of contents would be in the left pane, where you have to use your UP or DOWN arrow keys to select a topic. Once you get it, you press the ENTER key.

The desired topic will be loaded in the righthand pane:

A selected topic in an open book

In the above image, I am opening a fiction book and have just opened Chapter 3 in the book.

You can read as you would in any program, that is simply pressing the ScreenReader Key-DOWN arrow keys would read continuously.2

If you want, you can put the Bookworm in the self-voicing mode:

  • Simply press F5 key to start reading using your default Windows speech engine.
  • Press F6 to pause the reading; and
  • Press F7 to stop reading.

The advantage to using its self-voicing feature is that when it gets at the end of a section, the program will tell you “End of Section”, followed by the topic name for that section.

Advantages of Bookworm

Bookworm can open both EPUB and PDF files, so if you want you can set it as your default PDF viewer. It loads PDF files quickly.

One other feature that I like most when working with Bookworm is its simulation of page movement. It produces a sound to indicate navigation to the next or previous page. It makes the experience of reading a book “real”.

You can move to the next or previous page using the Enter or Backspace keys respectively.


The setback to using Bookworm has to do with a limited number of formats it handles as of version 0.1B: it cannot open Mobi, AZW3 or other proprietary formats by Amazon.

Besides Amazon, there are other formats such as Fiction Book format that are popular in the Opensource that it does not yet handle.

For me, the major deal-breaker with Bookworm is its occasional crashes:

  • When you try to close it after reading a book, it does not close. Pressing ALT-F4 or selecting Exit from the File menu does not help. In such cases, I end up killing its running process using the Task Manager.

Final Thoughts

Bookworm is a welcome addition to a list of accessible ebook-readers. The fact that its primary target are blind and visually impaired users makes its accessibility features its selling point. It is free and can deal with plain text, PDF and EPUB formats. You can even export your book to Plain Text, in case you want to open it in another editor.

Despite its crashes, I recommend anyone serious with reading to give it a try. You may find it one of your regular apps before long. We hope the developer will keep updating it to address some of these minor gotchas, and handle more formats.

  1. F1 is the hotkey used to bring up the program’s built-in help system in a number of applications on Windows. It also works in Bookworm. ↩︎

  2. This could be the JAWS key or NVDA key. But it is usually the INSERT key (with the desktop layout) or CAPSLOCK key (with the laptop layout) ↩︎