“It was not a lucrative enterprise. It was done for the love of the book,” says Kim Coventry, chair of the Caxton Club Exhibitions Committee, of the explosion of fine-press printing in Chicago during the first half of the 20th century. During that period–which included the heyday of the Arts and Crafts movement–Chicago was a production center for magazines, catalogs, directories, encyclopedias, and other printed matter, and some of the artisans who worked days on Printers Row spent their free time making fine books on borrowed presses, working in their basements or anywhere else they could. “Some of them are almost whimsical,” says Coventry. Others are works by Chicago writers such as Vincent Starrett and George Ade. About 70 of these elegant short-run books–including a few that are hand colored–go on display today as part of an exhibit called The Inland Printers: The Fine-Press Movement in Chicago, 1920-’45. There’s a free opening reception tonight from 5:30 to 7:30 at Columbia College’s Center for Book and Paper Arts, 1104 S. Wabash in Chicago (312-344-6630); the exhibit runs through February 21.

“Ah, Paris,” a classic bit from the early 1970s that originally featured Gilda Radner as an American in Paris and Eugene Levy as her French suitor; “American Pie,” a mid-90s skit about the dating scene with Miriam Cohen (who now writes for Late Night With Conan O’Brien) and Neil Flynn (the janitor on Scrubs); and many other sketches from the past 40 years have been dusted off for The Best of Second City, which opened January 3 and runs through January 25 at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 Campbell in Arlington Heights. Performances are tonight at 8 and tomorrow night at 7 and 10 and tickets are $17, $12 for students. For more call 847-577-2121 or see www.metropolisarts.com.


Rabbits are social animals that make great pets–as long as owners know what to expect. According to the experts, they should be spayed or neutered, can be trained to use a litter box, need plenty of chew toys, and should have the run of at least part of a bunny-proofed home. The animals are the first topic of discussion in the society’s new Critter Care series, which starts today with a lecture by a representative from the Red Door Animal Shelter, a Chicago group that takes in many of the rabbits that wind up at the Anti-Cruelty Society. It’s from 1 to 2:30 at the ACS’s Education and Training Center, 169 W. Grand, Chicago. It’s free, but registration is required; call 312-644-8338, ext. 344, or E-mail tbouschor@anticruelty.org. Coming lectures will cover ferrets (January 18) and other small pets.


The second installment in Michael Cook’s four-part project Veneer is intended to explore questions of memory, the past, and transfiguration. “It’s a funerary room,” says the Albuquerque-based artist (and former Chicago resident). “But it’s not meant to be didactic.” Titled Dirge, the installation includes 30 charcoal drawings of faces based on six basic head shapes that Cook says are “archetypes of human memory,” as well as a ten-minute video that asks the viewer to question the nature of individuality and a painting based on a Civil War photograph of a Georgia battle in which some of Cook’s ancestors died. “This is the death part,” he says. All will be on display at the Evanston Arts Center as part of Remembrance, an exhibit also featuring work by Deborah Boardman, Alicia Henry, and Bill Conger. The free opening reception is today from 1 to 4 at 2603 Sheridan Rd. in Evanston, and the exhibit runs through February 18; call 847-475-5300.

Marta Effinger’s recent play, Whispers Want to Holler, concerns a Louisiana woman who plans to sell her home to developers and flee her neighborhood after her teenage son is shot on the street. She thinks she’s losing her mind when the spirits of people who lived in the neighborhood in the 1800s appear and try to persuade her not to sell. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 and today at 3 and 7, and the show runs through February 23 at the ETA Creative Arts Foundation, 7558 S. South Chicago in Chicago. Tickets are $25, $15 for seniors and students; call 773-752-3955 or go to www.etacreativearts.org.


Scott Turow and Jack Fuller have a lot of experience separating fact from fiction, and, at times, seeing how the two might complement each other. In a recent New Yorker essay on the death penalty, for example, attorney-novelist Turow noted that the success of his legal thrillers has allowed him to do pro bono work on behalf of folks like Rolando Cruz codefendant Alex Hernandez. Today at 4, as part of the Medill School of Journalism’s Crain Lecture Series, Turow and Fuller, the war correspondent turned Tribune publisher who penned the Vietnam war novel Fragments, will give a free hour-long talk on Writing From Life: Truth, Fiction, and the Facts. Moderated by Northwestern School of Law lecturer Leigh Bienen, it’s at McCormick Tribune Center Forum, 1870 Campus Dr., Evanston; call 847-491-5401 for more information.


High-flying trapeze stunts, Broadway choreography, and multimedia special effects characterize the latest retelling of the Spider-Man saga, Spider-Man Live. This family-friendly traveling stage show uses 15 actors and a crew of 50 to spin the tale of the high school boy who’s bitten by a radioactive arachnid and goes on to save gal pal Mary Jane Watson from the evil Green Goblin. The opening performance is tonight and the show runs through January 19 at the Rosemont Theatre, 5400 N. River Road in Rosemont. Tickets range from $15 to $29.50; call 312-559-1212 or see www.spidermanlive.com.


In 2000, frustrated novelist and former Chicago insurance broker Leif Ueland (grandnephew of If You Want to Write author Brenda Ueland) was hired by Playboy to spend six months on a bus taking photos and writing about the magazine’s national search for the Playmate of the Millennium. His memoir, Accidental Playboy: Caught in the Ultimate Male Fantasy, covers his near misses with the would-be Playmates and deals with his own sexual confusion–a self-described sensitive guy raised in a feminist family, he hadn’t had sex in the six years preceding the assignment and was a bit uncomfortable around all those eager-to-please women. Ueland had the writing bug while living in Chicago in the late 1980s; he’d write at the old Scenes cafe on Clark and “scribble on legal pads at the beginning of every business day.” He returns tonight at 7:30 to read from Accidental Playboy at Quimby’s, 1854 W. North, Chicago (773-342-0910). It’s free; for more on Ueland visit www.leifueland.com.


The ways in which high-style architectural design filtered down to Main Street, U.S.A., are the topic of today’s free “LunchBreak” lecture by Anthony Rubano of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. Covering the period between 1830 and 1980, he’ll show how art deco, modernism, postmodernism, Victorian Italianate, and other architectural styles influenced small towns throughout Illinois. The lecture will include about 100 examples, including a Louis Sullivan-based building in Westmont, an English Country revival building in Libertyville, and a postmodern strip mall in Palatine. Main Street Commercial: What Style Is It? starts at 12:15 at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, Chicago (312-744-6630). Bring your own lunch.