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JANUARY

23 FRIDAY

In Elmore Leonard's 38th crime novel, Mr. Paradise, a lingerie model in Detroit takes a gig as a cheerleader for an elderly trial lawyer's kinky pleasure and gets mixed up in a hit. Leonard will read from Mr. Paradise tonight at 7:30 PM at Barbara's Bookstore, 1350 N. Wells in Chicago. It's free; call 312-642-5044.

Documentarian Nick Broomfield has never pretended to be objective. His 1992 film Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer was a muck-raking look at the efforts of Wuornos's born-again adoptive mother, her vaguely sleazy lawyer, and assorted hangers-on to profit from the story of America's first female serial killer. His latest release, Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer, returns to Wuornos's case to document the days leading up to her execution in 2002. It's a scathing indictment of capital punishment. Wuornos, convinced she was being controlled by radio waves and would be spirited away on a spaceship by angels after she died, lobbied the state of Florida to be put to death, and governor Jeb Bush appears to have been all too happy to facilitate. Aileen--not to be confused with Monster, the fictionalized tale of Wuornos's life starring Charlize Theron--has its Chicago premiere tonight at 8 at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State in Chicago, the film's only currently scheduled local engagement. Tickets are $8; call 312-846-2800 or see the movie listings for more.

24 SATURDAY

As if shrinking health benefits and ever-longer hours weren't enough of an insult to workers, the Labor Depart-ment's recent proposal for new overtime regulations reportedly includes ways in which employers can avoid paying employees for working late. It would seem to be an apt moment for Solidarity Forever! Graphics of the International Labor Movement, an exhibit of posters representing urban and rural labor struggles over the last 30 years that opens today and runs through February 27 at the offices of the Chicago-based progressive magazine In These Times. Scheduled speakers at tonight's free reception include Service Employees International Union Local 880 president Helen Miller and state senator Barack Obama, who's currently running for Peter Fitzgerald's U.S. senate seat. It's tonight from 7 to 10 PM at 2040 N. Milwaukee in Chicago; call 773-772-0100.

Single vegetarian seeking same? The Healthy Dining Club, "a social club for men and women in their 30s, 40s, and 50s," is celebrating its one-year anniversary with a buffet dinner featuring food from Amitabul, the Chicago Diner, Intelligent Chocolates, and other veggie- and vegan-friendly restaurants and caterers. It's tonight at 7 PM at the HDC, 930 W. Huron in Chicago. Reservations are $40; call 312-666-9979.

25 SUNDAY

"The title was in poor enough taste to draw my attention," writes an Amazon.com reviewer of Joseph Epstein's new book of short stories, Fabulous Small Jews. Epstein can't take credit for the title--it's from a poem by Karl Shapiro--but he redeems it, celebrating the beauty behind the quiet ordinariness of his subjects (mostly older members of the tribe living in and around Chicago) and letting the carefully crafted details of their lives tell a larger story. Epstein, former editor of the American Scholar and a longtime lecturer in Northwestern University's creative writing program, will read today at 2 PM; afterward he'll lead a discussion on contemporary writing. The event, at the Spertus Institute, 618 S. Michigan in Chicago, is free but reservations are requested. Call 312-322-1743.

26 MONDAY

The sad fate of Poland during World War II is well-known. But Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud's new book, A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron, Forgotten Heroes of World War II, aims to add the story of five Polish pilots who fought with the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain to the plus column in Polish history. Polish language and literature professor Frank Kujawinski leads a free discussion of the book tonight at 6:30 at the Polish Women's Alliance of America, 205 S. Northwest Highway in Park Ridge. Call 847-384-1208 for more information.

27 TUESDAY

Even in the age of electronic information, books in their physical form hold a certain power. That's the theme of Nicholas Basbanes's A Splendor of Letters, a meandering stroll through the role of the book in our society and methods of preservation in the past and present. It's the final volume of a trilogy in which Basbanes also investigated the worlds of libraries and rabid book collectors. He'll discuss the new book tonight at 6 PM at the Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton in Chicago. It's free; call 312-255-3700.

28 WEDNESDAY

Its literary merits may be debatable, but there's no question that Dan Brown's runaway best seller The Da Vinci Code tells a good story, what with hidden messages in paintings, a millennia-long conspiracy to blacken Mary Magdalene's name, and hints that Jesus had descendants who ended up in what is now France. Tonight Dominican University faculty members will talk about the book in the context of their areas of expertise at a free panel discussion, Dominican Tackles The Da Vinci Code. Theology professor Hugh McElwain presents the history of the secret society Opus Dei; English professor Mickey Sweeney talks about her research on the Holy Grail; art history professor Fran Steiner discusses the work of da Vinci; and history professor Rosalind Hays takes on the Knights Templar. It's at 7 PM at Dominican's Lund Auditorium in the Fine Arts Building, 7900 W. Division in River Forest. Call 708-524-6289 for more.

It's frustrating when clips from the candidates for Best Short Film are shown at the Oscars--where are these films screened for us non-Academy members? A year ago Chicago's Hideout and former short-film producer Xan Aranda teamed up to address this problem with "Prime Shorts," a bimonthly series of local and international film and video. Tonight's anniversary screening at the Gene Siskel Film Center, Prime Shorts--The Best of 2003, includes an "absurdist ode to the gerbil" from local director Jim Finn, a piece about day camp directed by three eight-year-olds (who are slated to appear at the screening), and a Claymation short about cabbages in love. Pearly Sweets, of Pearly Sweets & the Platonics, will play piano before the show and during intermission; afterward there's a party in the lobby with refreshments and DJ Deep Dish. It starts at 8:30 PM at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State in Chicago. Tickets are $8; call 312-846-2800 or see the movie listings for more. The 2004 Prime Shorts season kicks off February 25 at the Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia in Chicago; see www.hideoutchicago.com.

29 THURSDAY

An escape to sunny Australia would be nice about now, but if that's not on the schedule you can warm up with wines from down under at the Australia Day Harvest Festival, a tasting of more than 300 wines from all regions, complemented by a selection of Aussie delicacies. It runs tonight from 6:30 to 8:30 PM in the Harold Washington Library Center's Winter Garden, on the ninth floor of the library at 400 S. State in Chicago. Tickets are $40 and are available in advance at www.wineaustralia-usa.com; for more info call 212-351-6585.

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