A colleague recently spent several months researching a dead woman's life, including a perusal of the books the woman had read.

After finishing her research, she went through her own books and put a certain group of them in a secret place. "If something happens to me, I don't want to be judged by those books," she told me.I knew just which books she meant. Not sex manuals. Not trashy romance novels. But that hilarious genre of books that - judging from the best-seller lists - binds millions of single women in America together in hysterical laughter: the how-to-win-a-man books.

Most women I know have three or four such books hidden away for the dreary days when they need a surefire laugh. They pass them among friends and colleagues and poke fun at them over lunches and late night pizzas.

The genre isn't new to the '80s and '90s - just dumber. A few Christmases ago, a friend gave me her battered copy of "The Ingenue Date Book," published 25 years ago. "Everything every teenage girl wants and needs to know about boys, dating love and sex," the book promises. Friends and I spent an evening of laughter perusing its pages. Yet, despite the book's outdated assumptions of the world, it earnestly attempted to guide teenage girls safely through the turbulent waters of adolescence.

The recent spate of books has only one goal: allowing the author and publisher to make a small fortune off the confusion that reigns in male-female relationships. To this end, no suggestion is too silly, stupid or irresponsible.

Which is why American women love to read them.

In "How to Marry the Man of Your Choice," - a book that saw brisk sales - the author suggests a woman drop her present career for one that will put her in the company of men. Among her suggestions: a sales clerk at a men's shoe store and an IRS agent.

"Since every man must buy his own shoes, you can meet large numbers of men by selling them shoes," she advised. But should the men you are seeking not be inclined to date sales clerks, try the IRS. As an IRS agent, "you will have access to any man, even the most difficult to meet. Equally important, you will have his attention when you meet him."

No doubt. But can a man walking through the door with a box full of receipts and an accountant in tow have romance on his mind?

Another book went to further lengths. It listed 20 professions sure to introduce a woman to a man. Among them: running a shoeshine stand at a truck stop.

Several books recommend a woman correct her flaws before seeking a relationship with a man. Like sloppy speech. One book said impeccable speech was a must in attracting professional men and advised: "Pretend you're a wealthy woman speaking to a friend and her servants can overhear her."

The book went on to plead with women NOT to use 10 words in particular if she wants to impress an educated man. Never say youare "mad," say you are "angry," the book advised. You are never "glad," you are "pleased," it admonished. And perhaps the most critical words choice of all: Don't say "false teeth," say "dentures," the author pleaded.

Yet another book said a woman could discover a man's true views on sex by asking him if his sister was a virgin and if he ever saw his parents nude. (Call me shallow, but my relationships have never progressed to the point where I've felt comfortable asking a man if he'd seen his parents naked.)

My favorite is a how-to-find-a-man book written by a man. After toying with the sillier advice, he cut right to the heart of the matter: "To really attract someone fast, have money! Yep, go out and work your butt off to get a lot of money, because I don't think anything will attract someone faster."

Now that's advice I can believe in.