To catch up on our summer reading, we visited the various outposts of the big two Bs in Baltimore -- Barnes & Noble and Borders. We found that -- in addition to having some great reads -- each has its own atmosphere, plot directions and character developments.
The stores have certain things in common, as well as many differences. We accounted for the usual: the price of a bestseller (in this case, Michael Ondaatje's, "Anil's Ghost"); the price of an iced latte, and the general feel and mood of the place; and we threw in some other scales for fun. For example, we noted how comfortable the armchairs are on a scale of 1-to-10 (hey, we were logging in a lot of reading time), and how clean the bathrooms are. We even tested the staff's 19th-century classic literature knowledge. After all the weird looks, caffeine buzzes and countless trips to the bathroom, we can say: we came, we browsed, we drank.
Below is your primer to the Baltimore bookstore scene. Happy reading!
Barnes & Noble: Ellicott City
Atmosphere: Open, airy, bright, relaxed feel with the sounds of Buena Vista Social Club playing.
Architecture: Large, open, one-floor space. This is the most industrial-looking space of all with the least nooks and crannies.
Crowd: Kids. Moms. More kids. More moms. It's a virtual Gymboree in here.
What to wear: Bring kneepads or your own stroller to deflect potential scraped legs. Or borrow your friend's child, so you'll be properly accessorized.
Coffee shop: Starbucks is in the back center of the store. This location seems more like a Starbucks emporium with a bookstore around it.
Price of iced skim latte: $2.85 plus tax.
Price of the new hardcover bestseller: $25 less 40 percent ($15).
Interesting cultural phenomenon: Female dominated, despite all the children.
Chair comfort: 10. The most comfortable of all -- hands down. Bonus points for creative groupings and tables for foot propping.
Number of steps from the chair to the bathroom: 12 from a quartet of armchairs.
Bathroom cleanliness: 8-9. Very clean. Plus, there is a much-needed baby-changing station.
It's a sweltering day nice touch: After selecting "Under the Tuscan Sun," you can carry the Italian theme by indulging in one of the luscious flavors of gelato. Flavors include pistachio, wild berry, tiramisu and caramel ($1.95-$2.95).
Magazine rules: 24 minutes and no problem. Benches that stretch as far as the eye can see.