As the weather heats up, Baltimoreans will surely take refuge in the air-conditioned indoors. There's no better place to cool down than in your very own neighborhood super bookstore. It offers variety, comfort and more than one way to escape the weather.

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.

We also discovered that: people will try to read an entire Tom Clancy bestseller without paying for it, the cozy chairs nearest the restrooms are usually the first to go, and two double-iced lattes in one afternoon is never a good idea.

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.