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BACK TO THE BOOKS

THEY ARE STILL THERE -- all the books I was reading before Sept. 11 -- open and deserted. David McCullough's "John Adams"; a fictional history of Andrew Jackson by one of my favorites, Max Byrd; a reissue of "The Black Tower" by P.D. James.

And so on. One day soon, I'll go back to them. I was waiting to get my hands on the new book by Middle East expert Judy Miller, her coming biological warfare tome "Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War." (There are two other New York Times authors on this Simon & Schuster work -- Stephen Engelberg and William J. Broad.)

At the moment, reading the way I used to can't really offer me a diversion. But "Germs," of course, is in a class by itself, a must-read for the times and bound to be a best seller with people who really care about what's what. I can say unequivocally that it is one of the most horrible books I've ever felt I had to read. I am sure the authors felt the same way writing and putting it together.

I sincerely hope that all the information I gained from it will turn out to be useless.

Hollywood tightens security: Hollywood is braced in a way it never has been before.

Variety carried the story last week that the FBI was going to put the studios on terrorist attack alert, giving them chapter and verse about letting strangers on the lots, etc. I am told they gave each studio a 17-page memo. Tours have been canceled. The FBI says it is inconceivable that there aren't terrorist cells in L.A. just waiting for word to go into action. Most public buildings in the city, the Department of Water and Power, the federal building, the post office and the downtown Civic Center, are being heavily guarded. At studio entrances, cars are gone over with a fine-tooth comb.

And many film stars have hired bodyguards or more bodyguards to safeguard their kids. (Do we really think movie star kids are the next targets? Well, no, but they are at risk along with everyone else.) I understand that Nicole Kidman is urging Tom Cruise to let her take their children to Sydney, Australia, where she feels they'll be safer.

Sometimes I think people who are racing about trying to find a safe haven must never have read John O'Hara's great story "Appointment in Samarra," where death keeps appointments wherever one goes.

Digging in: Here's a star thought. Russell Crowe, the tough guy, says the WTC disaster made him blink. "I almost feel like retreating to my ranch in Australia. I guess that would be prudent. But I can't bring myself to hide from this. I'm going about my business, mate. I won't let these bastards affect my life, threat or no threat."

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