photoOne of the things I miss most about living in Washington, D.C., besides my friends, is Barnes and Noble. Yes, the stores are just about everywhere. But in the D.C. stores, you’re welcome and even expected to camp.

It goes a lot like this: You walk in check out the line at the coffee counter. It’s huge, so you wander the aisles searching for a good book. You go straight to your favorites, and make sure you’ve read everything by your preferred authors. You hit fiction, history, Sci-Fi, geography, languages, religion, (not always in that order), and you pick up interesting-sounding books along the way. You meander to the New Releases, cards and magnets, children’s, and finally (if you’re me), take a stroll through movies. By now, you’ve amassed a good stack, and you’ve been keeping an eye on the coffee shop line–as well as scoping out any places to sit down. When the time is right, you hop in line for a grande latte or hot chocolate or cappuccino. (I never get the Venti size. Venti means “20” in Italian, for the 20-ounce cup. You don’t want to see me with that much caffeine. But the grande is plenty good.)

When I was there, the D.C. Barnes and Noble shops had about 40 seats available, mostly in the coffee shop, but a few were scattered throughout the store. At any given time, though, there were over 100 people in the store, all in various stages of meandering and stack-building.

Finally, with your coffee and your stack, you seek out a place to sit and read. Usually this means finding some nice floor space to set up camp. With all the people in the store, it’s tough to find even a single aisle that doesn’t already have someone in it. But by now, you’ve walked around all of them enough to figure out who has something in their stack that looks interesting to you. You do this to signify you’re a likeminded soul. You find your place to camp, set your things down in a way that others can get around you, sit down cross-legged, and get comfy.

I saw a good many people read the books and put them back. I liked to read snippets of my stack, choose the one I liked the best, and buy it on my way out of the store—usually 2 hours later than when I walked in. But I’ve also seen students camp out for hours longer than that, with multiple books, papers, and a laptop in their “camp.”

Wonderfully, it’s not social time. Even if you B&N with friends, you’re there to read.

I miss those days, the smell of new paper and ink and the camaraderie of not talking at all.

If you’re still doing this on Route 1, just south of the city, save me a spot in the aisle. I’m always there in spirit.

My first book, Upside Down Kingdom, is available through Barnes & Noble and Amazon.