The nation's leading "bricks and mortar" (remember that one?) bookseller, Barnes & Noble (NYSE:BKS), released bookspine-crackin' quarterly results, sending the stock briefly higher this morn'. Second-quarter consolidated net earnings logged in at $13.6 million, or $0.20 per diluted share, up from $0.02 the same quarter last year, and well above the $0.16 consensus estimate.

Sales jumped 10% to $1.28 billion while gross margins held steady at 26%. For comparison, (NASDAQ:AMZN) -- one of David Gardner's top picks in Motley Fool Stock Adivsor -- logged sales of $1.09 billion last quarter on 25% gross margins.

Both companies got a boost from the Hillary Clinton and new Harry Potter books, which flew off the shelves like magic. The unlikely pair helped lift Barnes & Noble's same-store sales 5.6%.

In the words of CEO Steve Riggio, "Sales were strong throughout the entire second quarter.... We are pleased to see that hardcover sales are buoyant again." Citing a strong fall lineup, the company also raised guidance for the second half of 2003.

In quarter three, Barnes & Noble expects $0.01 to $0.07 in consolidated earnings per share, and $1.89 to $1.97 for the full year. At $26, the stock trades at about 13.5 times that forward estimate and is cheaper on a free cash flow basis, as measured for the year ended February. Its multiple of 11 times that year's free cash flow is less than half the S&P 500 average of 23 times. (Free cash flow turned negative in the first quarter 2003 -- it's seasonal.)

Upped guidance notwithstanding, Barnes & Noble is battling a lackluster economy, and same-store sales for the year are expected to tick up just 1% to 2%. The company, which operates 634 Barnes & Noble locations, also handles 237 B. Dalton Booksellers (which have seen weak results), Barnes& (NASDAQ:BNBN) (still losing money), and owns a majority of GameStop (NYSE:GME), the country's largest video game retailer with 1,400 locations.

City Lights it ain't.