Category Archives: ebooks

Dual language e-reader

I’m normally a reader of literature originally written in English.  This is because I feel that the “texture” of a written work is very important, and that comes from the inimitable nature of the original language the book was written in.  However, recently I decided to venture afield, and tackle the great Balzac.  This wasn’t the first time I’ve read him, but — in line with my more recent purism about chronology — I decided to read one of his first (even if not most celebrated) Human Comedy novels, At the Sign of the Cat and Racket.  Or, to revert to the original, respectively La Comedie Humaine, and La Maison du Chat-Qui-Pelote.

Since I don’t fluently read French, my initial impulse was simply to read a (bearable) English translation.  But then I had a Vision.  “Tom,” says the vision, “since you did have a few years of French in school, why not put it to use?  Make yourself a home-brewed Dual Language edition of Cat and Racket / Chat-Qui-Pelote!

I had the raw materials ready at hand.  For an e-reader I have a Nook Simple Touch (NST).  (Regrettably, this model has been discontinued by Barnes & Noble, but I am sure it’s still widely available around the Internet.)  The magnificent thing about this e-reader is that it is possible — and quite easy — to “ROOT” it.  This is the techie term for gaining access to its Android operating system, so that one can break the stranglehold Barnes & Noble has put on the device.  Once the NST is rooted, one can install lots of “Apps” on it — and in effect, run it as a regular Android tablet.  (Apparently one can even play Angry Birds on it … though I would not recommend that, given the limitations of the e-ink screen.)

The magic recipe for rooting the NST — which involves installing “NookManager” — can be found at

In case this super-long URL doesn’t work for you, an abbreviated version is

Now, let me explain how I created my dual-language e-reader.  For a long time, I’ve had Aldiko reader installed on my NST.  This is the reading app I habitually use.  (Note that recent versions of Aldiko — and other Android apps as well — may not work on the NST, which only has version 2.1 of Android.  My Aldiko version seems to be 2.0  … though it might also be worth trying 2.1.0 , etc.)  However, to quickly switch from English to French e-books, I needed a second reading app.  The one that  worked the best was Cool Reader (version 3.1.2-69).

Here is what the English version of the Balzac looks like on my NST:

IMG_0082 (960x1280)

Note the 4 strip-like “buttons” to the left and right of the NST screen.  Their default function is “next page” or “previous page”.  But one nice feature of NookManager is that it includes an app called “Nook Touch Mod Manager”.  Using its “Modify Button Actions” option, one can assign any app one chooses to these 4 buttons.  (One can still turn pages by pressing on the touch screen.)  I have the upper-right button assigned to Aldiko reader, which yields the English version of the Balzac, as you can see above.  The French edition is sitting in Cool Reader, which I’ve assigned to the lower-right button.  When I press that button, I immediately get the French version:

IMG_0083 (960x1280)

It just takes one button press to toggle between the 2 languages.  And each toggle brings me right back to the place where I was last reading, in the given language.

In this way, I recently got through Cat/Chat with much enjoyment.  I absorbed as much as I could from the French version (the texture, style, cadence of the language).  For the more difficult words, and to read quicker when I got impatient, I reverted to the English edition.

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As far as my text sources are concerned … it is worth noting that the entire, mammoth, Human Comedy is available (in English) at

I found the original, French text of this particular work at

Both of the above are free, I am happy to say!

I am looking forward to more dual-language adventures.  I’ve heard so much about what a great and influential work Dante’s Divine Comedy Divina Commedia is.  Even though I’ve never formally studied Italian, I still might make it my next dual-language project …

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Chasing a masterpiece

cover from pdf of novel (618x1024)

Long before Lawrence of Arabia the movie — and before T.E. Lawrence himself — there was Charles Montagu Doughty (1843-1926), a most intrepid Englishman who ventured where only Arabs had dared to tread.  Doughty’s most celebrated book is the epic Travels in Arabia Deserta (1888).  The book fell into obscurity; Lawrence rediscovered it in the 1920’s and it has become accepted as a classic of the travel literature.


I am reading Travels now, and find that it lives up to its reputation … it is a beautifully written account of a daring journey.  Today I sat in a coffee house, savoring the adventures and the prose, as I read Travels on my Nook Touch e-reader.

But … getting to that point was not an easy process.

To make rabbit stew, the first thing you have to do is catch the rabbit.  To read a book, the first thing you have to do is … be aware that the book exists.  I probably came across references to the Doughty before, but what gave me a recent push was a passage from another book I’m reading, William Gaddis’ The Recognitions:

At other times he [Wyatt] was feverishly awake, and the books stacked round him could not hold his exhausted attention. Their titles ran from Doughty’s Travels in Arabia Deserta to A Coptic Treatise Contained in the Codex Brucianus, the Rosarium Philosophorum, two books of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Wyer’s De Prœstigiif Dœmonum, Llorente’s Inquisition d’Espagne, …

These were books selected by Father Gwyon — widely-read way beyond the bounds of Christian orthodoxy — for his son to read.  I was intrigued to see the Doughty called out in such illustrious (or at least impressive-sounding) company …

Where do you look for a public-domain classic?  (A digital copy, mind you!  I will only read a bricks-and-mortar book in the most dire of emergencies.)  Project Gutenberg is the natural place to start.  But the book, rather oddly, is not there.  The Online Books Page points to Google Books as having at least Volume I of this mammoth work.  I excitedly downloaded their ePub version, but was doused with cold water when I saw how corrupt the text was.  I should have remembered that unlike the Gutenberg books, which are meticulously proofread, the Google ones appear to be thrown at the public just the way they come from the OCR (optical character recognition) process.  Here’s the beginning of the scanned, OCR’ed, ePub version of Chapter 1, preceded by three lines of the chapter summary:

Ch 1 first pg EPUB

I now realized that I would have to make do with the actual Google scan … a PDF file.  Anyone experienced with e-books will tell you that PDF’s are a pain in the you-know-where to read on an e-reader.  But I made it work, though it wasn’t easy.  To begin with, I have a Nook Touch e-reader that I have customized (OK, well, er, “rooted”; see these links for more information).  On it, I installed ezPDF Reader, which has very useful options such as “Landscape” format, and Zooming the text to any size desired.

(And yes, I know that reading a PDF file is easier on a tablet — iPad, Android, or what have you — with the normal LCD color display.  But, such a device just lacks the coziness and book-like quality of the e-paper and e-ink found on a dedicated e-reader.  Not to mention lacking the long battery life and read-in-the-sun ability.)

I then had to massage the PDF file itself.  (The following steps require a PC sporting the full-fledged Adobe Acrobat program; Adobe Reader alone will not cut it.)  I was having a lot of trouble accessing the PDF on my Nook until I created a new PDF version, incorporating OCR text recognition.  Weirdly enough, this helped ezPDF Reader open the original scanned file properly; it also had the distinct advantage of allowing one to copy-and-paste memorable snippets of the text into another file.  I then cut off a 50-page chunk so that my Nook would not be struggling with a mammoth file.  (Later, I realized that I could vastly reduce the size of the PDF file by saving it as “optimized”, so perhaps cutting off that chunk was not necessary.)

Here followeth a snippet of the PDF file, in all its original — if messy — 1888 glory. (The smear at the left helps explain why there were so many mistakes in Google’s OCR process.)

Ch 1 first pg (735x1280)

Was it all worth it?  Heck, I’m now set up for many hours of latte-sipping at my coffee house, while I’m jouncing around on that camel and experiencing wonders all around me.  Here’s one delight I just came across today:  You probably know the Biblical phrase “balm in Gilead”?  Here is Doughty’s actual observation of the land called Gilead:

Westward towards Jordan lies Gilead, a land of noble aspect in these bald countries. How fresh to the sight and sweet to even- sense are those woodland limestone hills, full of the balmsmelling pines and the tree-laurel sounding with the sobbing sweetness and the amorous wings of doves! in all paths are blissful fountains; the valley heads flow down healing to the eyes with veins of purest water.


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Wanted: Spoiler-Free E-book Searching

Wanted: Spoiler-Free Searching

Here’s a shot of  the Aldiko Reader search-results screen on my Android tablet. (Well, it’s a Nook Simple Touch  e-ink reader “rooted” to become an Android tablet, but that’s another story.)

Let’s say you’re reading a suspenseful novel … maybe a murder mystery. You are on page 50, and there’s a mention of the character Parsons. (I know there isn’t any “Parsons” on page 50 in the photo, but please humor me.)  If your memory is anything as porous as mine, you might want to check back to remind yourself who Parsons is. So you do a search on his name.

You get a number of hits on page 33 (see the photo), which will hopefully give you the information you sought. But there is too much of a good thing here, since you’ll also get information from pages 106 and 107 … pages you haven’t gotten to yet. If you have bad luck, your eye may flick to a most unwelcome “spoiler”, which will give away a vital part of the plot to come. (Oh, it looks like Parsons is the murderer.)

To me, even the NUMBER of hits for a name or phrase, downstream from my location, is telling me more than I care to know at that point. (OK, call me sensitive, but it is what it is.)

There is a simple fix for this dilemma. Just give the reader an option to search the text only up to the page that they are on, at the time. Has anyone seen an e-reading app which is considerate enough of the reader’s state of suspense, to allow this choice?

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November 7, 2013 · 2:18 am