Narrative Threads: Jordan Alexander Stein & Jasmon Drain

March 15th, 2020

Think you know how fiction works? Think again on this episode of Open Stacks with literary theorist Jordan Alexander Stein, who joins us in the stacks for a look at When Novels Were Books. Plus, Jasmon Drain and Ben Austen discuss Drain’s novelistic collection of stories about the interconnected lives of residents of “the biggest concrete building on Chicago’s South Side,” Stateway’s Garden. And the Co-op’s Colin and Alena find humor in paying attention. You’ll never judge a book by its genre again.

Jordan Alexander Stein (right) takes us to the Co-op's Books on Books section, whiche he notes are tending to appear and grow in more and more bookstores. Print isn't dead, says Stein. In fact, independent bookstores have seen a surge in viability over the last few years, despite the rise of the dreaded e-book. Join us as we learn about the rise of the novel, why insisting on its past tense matters, and what it means to define media by a genre (especially in the case of Emily Dickinson's "envelope poems.") Stein shares his Critical Reads and books that helped shape When Novels Were Books, which you can browse here.

From Jacques Tati and squeaky couches to enlightening puns, the Co-op's Colin and Alena find serious fun in new books that explore, dissect, and celebrate humor on this week's Front Table.

In January, Jasmon Drain (right) and Ben Austen discussed Jasmon's debut novel set in the South Side of Chicago, Stateway's Garden. Listen back to Season 1, Episode 53 of Open Stacks, which features Ben Austen on High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing; a work of nonfiction about Chicago’s unjustly infamous projects, whose destruction Drain takes his readers up to.

"Green grass was scarce in the projects. It was as invaluable to young black people as a paper bag stocked to the brim with penny candies. Or better than that, a $7 book of food stamps, or even a Chicago Bears Starter jacket." Jasmon Drain, from Stateway's Garden

Drain reads from one of his favorite pieces in Stateway's Garden, "Wet Paper Grass," and you can read an earlier version of the story in its entirety at the link. 

Thanks for listening to Open Stacks. Send your favorite pun to and Alena will write back with an official sounding evaluation.

This episode was produced by Elliot Ducree, Veronica Karlin, and Jackson Roach. It features music by Andrei Pohorelsky, Kevin MacLeod, and Blue Dot Sessions. Thanks to Jasmon Drain and Ben Austen, Jordan Alexander Stein, and you for listening. If you’re enjoying this podcast, please leave us a rating and consider giving, not just to the podcast, but our mission as the only not-for-profit bookstore whose mission is bookselling. Give and learn more about all the ways you can support our stores at And read with us next time on Open Stacks.