If you want to learn to invest wisely, one of the best ways is by reading. Unfortunately, many personal finance books are schlock.
In fact, you may actually improve your chances of mastering investing by avoiding many of the titles that sit on the business best-seller lists.
With beach season upon us, here are some worthwhile titles that you can pack along with the sunscreen:
"The Methods of Wall Street Exposed: Wealth Without Worry," by James N. Whiddon with Lance Alston; Brown Books; $24.95
I received a copy of this book after I appeared recently on a radio show hosted by Whiddon, a fee-only investment adviser in Dallas. When he offered to send me his book, I said OK to be polite.
A lot of advisers write mediocre vanity books to impress their clients and attract more business. But in this case, my cynicism was misplaced. In fact, I've put this book on the shelf devoted to my favorite investing titles. As I read the book, I found myself agreeing with everything he said. Whiddon, for instance, is a strong advocate of passive investing though index and exchange-traded funds.
While you probably won't detect this by reading the book, Whiddon is also an admirer of funds managed by Dimensional Fund Advisors in Santa Monica, Calif. - index-like funds that happen to be my favorite mutual funds. I don't write about these funds much because individual investors can only gain access to them through a select group of fee-only advisers, which you can find by visiting DFA's Web site at www.dfaus.com. If you're saving for college, however, you can invest in DFA funds through West Virginia's 529 plan (www.smart529select.com).
"FastWeb College Gold," by Mark Kantrowitz; Collins; $21.95
One of my pet peeves against the financial press is that it seems to assume that everybody's kids have yet to cut their first teeth. How else can you explain why almost all the articles and books you see on college strategies involve families with an infant?
What these writers fail to explain is what you should do if your kid is a sulky teenager and what you've got saved for college wouldn't get Paris Hilton through a single weekend. These anxious parents need to know how to get their kids into a good school with the least amount of money. "FastWeb College Gold" can help.