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I've relocated to another desk in the office, and it gave me a chance to cull the flock of books I've received since the last move six years ago.

These efforts produced six very large boxes of books that our literary editor is planning to donate to area prisons.

Although I did not consider what I was tossing to be essential to my job, the 1,000 or so "Make a Million in Real Estate with Nothing Down and No Effort" books that make up the lion's share of the discards will either prepare them for life after prison or make the more hard-core felons grateful for life without parole.

Next to go were the oldest of the "bubble-is-coming" books, especially the ones that set a date for the cataclysm that has already expired. The rest of the bubble books followed suit, only because I couldn't construct anything useful out of them in my workshop.

To be fair, I also kept only one of three copies I received of David Lereah's "Why the Real Estate Boom Will Not Bust -- and How You Can Profit from It." I let go of all three copies of the National Association of Realtors' chief economist's, "Are You Missing the Real Estate Boom," since that was the book's former title.

Most of the real estate books I receive are unsolicited. The exceptions were June Fletcher's excellent "House Poor," Sheri Koones' "Modular Mansions," and anything new by Tom Kelly. I asked, I received, I read, I enjoyed, I wrote about.

My favorite unsolicited books are from Nolo, with titles such as "Negotiate the Best Lease for Your Business" and "Every Landlord's Legal Guide." I'm on the seventh edition of the legal guide. The previous editions have been snapped up by colleagues with relatives in the business.

Useful books get spoken for quickly.

So what should a real estate columnist's library include?

It goes without saying, but anything and everything by Peter Miller is essential. I'm always drawing on Miller's expertise, especially on mortgages -- "The Common Sense Mortgage," "The Mortgage Hunter," as well as his"Inside the Real Estate Deal."

Also on the top shelf are Ilyse Glink's "100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask" and Edith Lank's "201 Questions Every Home Buyer and Home Seller Must Ask."

There's some duplication on the questions, but by the time you're finished asking, you can have your real estate agent begging for mercy.

Again Tom Kelly's "The New Reverse Mortgage Formula" and former NAR chief economist John Tuccillo's "How A Second Home Can Be Your Best Investment." These are two essential books.

One book that would be of interest to real estate personnel and cultural historians as well is Jeffrey M. Hornstein's, "A Nation of Realtors." The book convincingly argues that the rise of the middle class in the 20th century and the idea of homeownership as the American dream resulted from the efforts of real estate entrepreneurs who succeeded in turning their endeavors into a profession.

It won't help you buy or sell a house, but will provide a clearer understanding of why you are doing so.

Also a must in this ever-changing world is Michael Lee's "Selling to Multicultural Home Buyers." It puts into book form the observations Lee has shared with audiences at NAR conventions for at least the 12 years I've been attending.

And don't forget to have at least one up-to-date book that defines and explains real estate terms. I've had a copy of Barron's "Real Estate Handbook" on my desk for the 17 years I've been writing about real estate and refuse to let it out of my sight.

Books, as those six boxes of discards attest, do have a limited shelf life. Only 1 percent of all authors today sell more than 20,000 copies while those books remain in print. The rest are well represented in those six boxes.

The book that has sat on my shelf for eternity is "I Beg to Differ," a collection of columns by the Canadian newspaperman Frank Lowe, who was, for my money, one of the best of his kind.

It doesn't really qualify as a real estate book, but, as with just about every book ever published, it has its moments:

"One year not too long ago, the Town of Montreal West gave me a pretty certificate for having 'one of the 100 best gardens in the community.' I felt pretty good about this one until my wife mentioned there were only 99 gardens in the area."

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