Gays Reading

Rachel Khong (Real Americans)

April 30, 2024 Jason Blitman, Brett Benner, Rachel Khong Season 2 Episode 50
Rachel Khong (Real Americans)
Gays Reading
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Gays Reading
Rachel Khong (Real Americans)
Apr 30, 2024 Season 2 Episode 50
Jason Blitman, Brett Benner, Rachel Khong

In their 50th episode, Jason and Brett talk to Rachel Khong (Real Americans) about cooking eggs, mugwort baths, growing into the person who could write this book, and how friction allows for change.

Rachel Khong is the author of Goodbye, Vitamin, winner of the California Book Award for First Fiction, and named a Best Book of the Year by NPR; O, The Oprah Magazine; Vogue; and Esquire. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Cut, The Guardian, The Paris Review, and Tin House. In 2018, she founded The Ruby, a work and event space for women and nonbinary writers and artists in San Francisco’s Mission District. She lives in California.

**BOOKS!**
Check out the list of books discussed on each episode on our Bookshop page:
https://bookshop.org/shop/gaysreading | By purchasing books through this Bookshop link, you can support both Gays Reading and an independent bookstore of your choice!

Join our Patreon for exclusive bonus content!

Purchase your Gays Reading podcast Merch!

Follow us on Instagram
@gaysreading | @bretts.book.stack | @jasonblitman

What are you reading?
Send us an email or a voice memo at gaysreading@gmail.com

Show Notes Transcript

In their 50th episode, Jason and Brett talk to Rachel Khong (Real Americans) about cooking eggs, mugwort baths, growing into the person who could write this book, and how friction allows for change.

Rachel Khong is the author of Goodbye, Vitamin, winner of the California Book Award for First Fiction, and named a Best Book of the Year by NPR; O, The Oprah Magazine; Vogue; and Esquire. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Cut, The Guardian, The Paris Review, and Tin House. In 2018, she founded The Ruby, a work and event space for women and nonbinary writers and artists in San Francisco’s Mission District. She lives in California.

**BOOKS!**
Check out the list of books discussed on each episode on our Bookshop page:
https://bookshop.org/shop/gaysreading | By purchasing books through this Bookshop link, you can support both Gays Reading and an independent bookstore of your choice!

Join our Patreon for exclusive bonus content!

Purchase your Gays Reading podcast Merch!

Follow us on Instagram
@gaysreading | @bretts.book.stack | @jasonblitman

What are you reading?
Send us an email or a voice memo at gaysreading@gmail.com

Jason Blitman:

Hi.

Brett Benner:

hello. Sorry. Drinking. Hello.

Jason Blitman:

That's okay. Happy 50th episode.

Brett Benner:

Happy 50th episode. That's much nicer than happy 50th birthday.

Jason Blitman:

I can't believe that.

Brett Benner:

It's

Jason Blitman:

Well, your 50th birthday happened a long time ago.

Brett Benner:

Okay, bitch. Settle down.

Jason Blitman:

It's our 50th birthday of our first episode.

Brett Benner:

Yes. It's amazing. It's amazing.

Jason Blitman:

I know, you know, and just a quick shout out to all of our listeners and our followers and our subscribers and our Patreon members. and,

Brett Benner:

not on Patreon, they're missing stuff. Seriously.

Jason Blitman:

know you're missing our bonus stuff, and, and to all of our authors who we've had wonderful conversations with so far. But also, a huge special shout out to the publicists who work on these books. They are the, the tireless people who work behind the scenes. And, have just been rooting for us and have been on our side this whole time. And, and we just couldn't do it without these incredible publicists. And so we're super, super grateful to

Brett Benner:

Grateful and appreciative. Thank you.

Jason Blitman:

Some of whom are listeners and it means so much when folks like authors and publicists start listening to the podcast. It's just like so cool. Um, so happy 50th. Here's to 50 more.

Brett Benner:

Yes. At this rate, we're on a track, man. We're on a track.

Jason Blitman:

I know. And our special 50th episode, we've got. Rachel Kong talking about her new book, Real Americans, all four of our single author episodes this month have been book club picks of some kind, which

Brett Benner:

picking well. We are picking well.

Jason Blitman:

as always, all the books that we talk about on this episode, you could find in our bookshop. org page, which supports independent bookstores and supports Gaze Reading. And it was just Indie Bookstore Day, so all the more reason to go support and buy some books. If you are not following us on Instagram, follow us at GaysReading, like and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and, uh, thanks for, for constantly joining us.

Brett Benner:

Yeah. We really appreciate it.

Jason Blitman:

Rachel Kong is the author of Goodbye Vitamin, winner of the California Book Award for first fiction, and named a best book of the year by NPR. Oh, the Oprah magazine, Vogue and Esquire. Her work has appeared in the New York times book review, the cut, the guardian, the Paris review and tin house in 2018. She founded the Ruby, a work and event space for women and non binary writers and artists in San Francisco's mission district. She lives in California. I'm Jason,

Brett Benner:

I'm Brett.

Jason Blitman:

and enjoy this 50th episode of Gaze

Brett Benner:

reading.

Jason Blitman:

Hi,

Rachel Khong:

Hello. I'm good. How are you?

Brett Benner:

Good.

Rachel Khong:

I'm using this microphone that it feels like it picks up everything. Like I can hear the birds outside

Brett Benner:

We can't hear anything. No, you're good. You're

Rachel Khong:

Okay.

Brett Benner:

Did you get a new mic because you were embarking for the, for the book launch?

Rachel Khong:

No. I was sent this mic because I am occasionally a guest on a podcast called recipe club.

Brett Benner:

Yeah

Rachel Khong:

Um, and it's like a book club for recipes. And so they had sent me this, but usually it's somebody else doing the, the sound engineering or whatever. Yeah. So I'm just like, okay this is fine.

Jason Blitman:

Since you talked about food first, I have things I need to talk to you about.

Rachel Khong:

sure. Oh, I

Jason Blitman:

My new favorite thing. This is so sacrilegious, but this is a safe space and we're recording. So this may or may not make it in the episode. my new favorite thing is microwave eggs.

Rachel Khong:

support that. Yeah. Like how do you do it? How do you do it?

Jason Blitman:

I do, I'll just do egg whites because, hey, hashtag cholesterol and I'll do them in a mug, maybe two or three egg whites in a mug and cover it with a plate and do 30 seconds at a time and check it and then that's it. It's it's almost like a poached egg and

Rachel Khong:

Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

Easy cleanup. I like, can't express how easy it is. And knowing that you've edited an

Brett Benner:

is literally I feel like you've just said I discovered this thing. It's called a microwave

Jason Blitman:

No! How many people cook micro How many people cook eggs in the microwave?

Brett Benner:

exactly how it started the beginning It was eggs and potatoes like all the time like constantly. Yes

Rachel Khong:

coming back around. It's full

Brett Benner:

Yes,

Jason Blitman:

think that I'm crazy for doing

Brett Benner:

No, when I, when my kids were little, I would always do them in the microwave

Jason Blitman:

That's because you're old.

Brett Benner:

Yeah, it is, so yeah. But that is, I love that you discovered, I love that you discovered this incredible thing, eggs in the microwave.

Rachel Khong:

Let him have it. I

Brett Benner:

I'm going to give it

Rachel Khong:

in the microwave. Yeah, exactly. But I think it's it's actually a Korean recipe that's in my book. A lot of Korean moms will microwave eggs with scallions and jalapeno and put sesame oil on top. So that's another, that could be a variation.

Brett Benner:

In two weeks, You're going to come back and say you made a mug cake.

Rachel Khong:

I support those.

Jason Blitman:

Which I also heard you talking about on a podcast.

Brett Benner:

I love mug, a mug cake, a good mug cake. It's so easy, especially for one.

Rachel Khong:

Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

We're going to change the name of this podcast to Gays Eating.

Brett Benner:

We really are because we

Rachel Khong:

I think both names are amazing. I'm like, this is the best podcast name ever. I will not be on a better titled podcast. Let's say that.

Jason Blitman:

That's going to be a new pull quote,

Brett Benner:

That's exactly well.

Jason Blitman:

We could eat snacks while reading Real Americans.

Brett Benner:

You're really good.

Jason Blitman:

Oh, you should do like a snack, like a playlist, but snacks, like

Rachel Khong:

think a lot of people wouldn't like the chewing. Yeah, while streeting. I think a lot of people don't like that. Yeah, I think it's maybe yeah.

Jason Blitman:

fair. Okay. All right. We're workshopping. We're figuring it out.

Rachel Khong:

By the end of this we'll figure it out.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah. That's how this goes. Okay. Rachel, can you give us your elevator pitch for real Americans?

Rachel Khong:

Oh, I'm so bad at

Jason Blitman:

That's okay. Everyone's bad at

Rachel Khong:

I'm so bad

Jason Blitman:

it. But for today,

Rachel Khong:

yeah.

Jason Blitman:

of an elevator ride as you need it to be.

Rachel Khong:

I think Real Americans is a story about a family covers three generations in a American Family, and it's really a book that asks the question, how do we become who we become? That's my pitch.

Brett Benner:

That was excellent. That was excellent.

Jason Blitman:

So you said it spans three generations and what's so fun as a reader, while the whole book is cohesive I would argue that there are nuggets of romance in the first section, nuggets of a coming of age story in the second section, and nuggets of historical fiction in the third section. So it's really like this book for anyone.

Rachel Khong:

Yeah, I, and that was totally intentional. I think I love books that you can't quite put your finger on them. They're a mix of genres maybe, and I think, You mentioned, the second book being the coming of age story. I think all three of them are actually, because I think that I didn't really set out to do that, but in the end, that's what it turned out to be, because I think being someone maybe in your teens or your early twenties that's such a formative age for so many of us. Maybe we're not fully developed quite yet, and and I think this book, because it's so much about, like, how we become who we become, That period of life is especially important, I think not that we're done changing like at the moment right now, right? We're always changing but I think there's just so much change that happens

Jason Blitman:

that time

Rachel Khong:

Yeah in that time. Yeah

Jason Blitman:

in general, the book I think, touches so much on the concept of time and like feeling like time isn't moving and how change actually occurs, and how like you're not the same person on the first date as you are on the day that you get proposed to,

Rachel Khong:

Yeah,

Jason Blitman:

or. Are you right? It's do you become, or is it an unfurling You remember that person that you were when you like first started the book? Oh,

Rachel Khong:

is such a wonderful question because yeah, I was, as you were talking, I was thinking about how time is so threaded into the book itself because the book itself took years to write and it was this daily process, right? I came to the book every day a slightly different person and I knew when I started it that At the moment that I started it, I could not have finished it. I had to grow into the person who could finish the book. And I had to learn things along the way. I had to learn skills that I didn't have, in terms of writing skills. I don't know. At the beginning, I felt like I was so bad at dialogue. Or at least that was what I was telling myself. And I think I, through writing this book, really taught myself. What dialogue needed to be there, how to have sort of natural feeling dialogue. As a writer, you're always trying to hide the things that you're not as good at and, put into the foreground the things that you are. But I think with this book, I really challenged myself to yeah, just take a stab at things that I didn't feel necessarily like good at in quotes and just like really do my best. So I think I am, I'm such a different person from the person that I was when I started the book

Jason Blitman:

Hmm.

Rachel Khong:

and it's hard to say exactly how because yeah it's hard to articulate your own changes because you're living through them, right? Maybe somebody else in your life might be able to speak to that better than you can. But for me, I'm like I feel like I'm, like, moving in the direction that I am supposed to be going in, but I couldn't tell you exactly the ways in which the ways in which I've changed. Yeah. How do you guys feel? Yeah.

Brett Benner:

Wasn't saying correct me if I'm wrong, but you wrote these stories chronologically, correct?

Rachel Khong:

I did, yeah,

Brett Benner:

So that's an interesting thing too, because you're changing as you're going through and then you're shifting a narrative so much with a wholly different person. And what was that like?

Rachel Khong:

I think the thing is with the book it wasn't like, I did write it chronologically as you, not chronolo just like in the order of

Brett Benner:

Yes, the

Rachel Khong:

appearances, so I wrote it in that order the characters came to me in that order, but I was constantly revisiting each character so it wasn't like I wrote Lily's section first and then wrote May's section at the

Jason Blitman:

And then never thought about them again.

Rachel Khong:

yeah, exactly. I never thought about them again. I was always like going back to them, always like bringing in yeah. Layering in things that I was learning and

Brett Benner:

started to inform the other.

Rachel Khong:

yeah. And I think that, I mean, the middle, just what happened to the characters each character was such a mess I knew who they were, I knew their voices really well, but how they related to one another what they were going through, what needed to be in the book itself, I think all of that just unfolded over this really long process, and it was was almost like getting to know people, right? It feels don't know, just like mystical to say that, but I do think that for me, there's this process of learning who the characters are, and learn who they are. In the way that I would learn who people are, like just being in relationships with other people and and yeah, and so they came to me slowly and sometimes they would surprise me and I would think, okay, is this a surprise that's that's true for them or just a surprise that that's out of left field and shouldn't happen? I don't know. There's all these, there are so many yeah. Yeah, I'm still the boss. There are so many scenes that I wrote that had to happen for the characters, but then don't have to happen for the reader, they're just in, in a binder somewhere.

Jason Blitman:

Talking about, you wrote things that you needed to write for the characters, but not necessarily the reader.

Rachel Khong:

Yeah

Jason Blitman:

Tying it in to generally what the book is about, which for me was really about, fortune and chance and these things that you articulating things that needed to happen for the character. Those are those things for me. It's Oh, these are those chance moments. Are there any, you have any examples in your real life that you could that are just magical?

Rachel Khong:

of things that happened to me.

Jason Blitman:

Uh Huh. Like a chance moment.

Rachel Khong:

Oh That's it. Oh my gosh, that's such a good question. I don't know, I with this book I was really thinking about I have this feeling and I suspect other people have this feeling too that your life has gone the way that it was supposed to go, that things feel fated. I often think because I'm an immigrant and my family came from Malaysia when I was two years old, I'm often thinking about this question of who would I be if we hadn't come to America? Who would I be if I still lived in Malaysia? Would I even be a writer? Would I care about writing? What would I care about instead? And I think a lot of people Us have these like these moments in our lives. We're like a decision is made, a direction is gone in or whatever, and you can't go back from it, right? Like your life is going to turn out the way that it turns out because of that decision. And and I think, there's so many more examples of that question. Oh, what if I hadn't married this person? What if I had married somebody else? What if I had moved here instead of somewhere else? There's just these like moments in our lives that really determine our lives because we are, we're all just individual human beings who have one life to live, really. And I think there's something sad about that as you grow older. Oh, okay, these doors have closed behind me. So it's really I don't know, I think about that question all the time. Is this the way my life is supposed to go? And I think overwhelmingly, I think, yeah, like things feel fated and things feel think oh yeah it's amazing that we're all here. Like, It's such a, maybe cliched thought or banal thought at this point, but it is like a little bit of a miracle.

Jason Blitman:

the opening number of Matilda the musical is called Miracle, and it's literally the idea that it's a miracle that we're born. It's a miracle that Of all of the combinations of things, we are the people that we are.

Rachel Khong:

When you look at the statistics, it's no, that's nuts.

Jason Blitman:

right, exactly.

Rachel Khong:

The fact that we're all talking is also just like a weird

Brett Benner:

And how people come together. All the links that everybody has.

Rachel Khong:

Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

whenever someone talks about. about like fate or chance or fortune and waves it off as like a lucky coincidence. I often share an anecdote that I'll share as succinctly as I can for our listeners. I was living in Chicago. I was visiting New York with my sister. We were staying in a hotel. We went from the hotel to then stay at my cousin's house. in a different part of town. Instead of taking the subway or a cab, we were cheap, and we walked the 45 minutes with our suitcases instead. On the walk, I clocked where a theater was that I had always wanted to see a show. There was a show that was playing. We stopped in to see if they have student rush tickets. They do. We go see the show that night, at intermission, a woman behind me, I overhear her say, and I can't believe he did that thing to him. And I was like, what was that thing? And the person sitting next to me and I looked at each other and we both wanted to know what was that thing. He and I started talking, and then at the end of the night, he said, by the way, thanks for coming to see my show. And he was the composer. Six months later, I didn't want to go out drinking on a Monday night. My friend was like, please let's go. Our friend is moving out of town. Let's just go. I went, I opened the door to a bar in Chicago. And the first person I see is that composer. We reconnect, we exchange email addresses. Six months later, he's emailing me and says, Hey, I know you've graduated. You're planning on moving to New York. I'm working on the pre Broadway workshop of that show. Would you be interested in coming, moving sooner and working on it? And I did. And being there at that time is what got me my first job in New York and got me my full time gig. Like, It just, my whole life would have been totally different. I have to believe in these things, whatever that means. Something else that's a big theme in the book is dreams. Themes in all of our books these days. Thanks. The big question is, do you remember your dreams?

Rachel Khong:

Oh, yes, I do. You know what? I've been taking I've been, like, studying herbs a little bit this year. I've focused on one herb every month just to take as a tea or to steep So one of those herbs is mugwort, is an herb that, you can drink it. It's pretty bitter, but I was taking baths in it, and it's also sometimes called dreamweed, and it gives you the most vivid dreams. Probably not everybody, but I think the,

Jason Blitman:

It has the capacity

Rachel Khong:

It has a capacity to, I think Native Americans used it for these like ritual dreaming purposes, and so I've been steeping in these mugwort baths and having these really vivid dreams. Some of them have to do with publication.

Brett Benner:

Those are the scary ones,

Rachel Khong:

I know, I had a dream that was I was having a yard sale in the dream and it was my yard sale in theory, but as I was looking out on the lawn, I was noticing things that I didn't actually want to sell yet. There was like this cabinet that had my index cards in it. That was all my notes. And I was like, Oh no, I don't want to sell that. And so I was like running out into the yard and bringing things back inside. And I realized that. It was basically like after I had done some interviews and things, I was, and it was that feeling of Oh, what did I say? Did I want to, did I want to be selling that? Did I want to be putting that out on the lawn? So that was one dream that it does feel book related.

Jason Blitman:

I would say so.

Rachel Khong:

Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah, that's crazy. And it's also interesting thinking about the concept of fortune, but also the concept of dreams, because dreams are both things that happen to us in the nighttime that don't necessarily quote unquote mean anything, but then we have dreams like hopes and dreams.

Rachel Khong:

exactly. Do you have, do you guys remember your dreams?

Jason Blitman:

Rarely.

Rachel Khong:

I wanna, know about a recent dream,

Jason Blitman:

I rarely remember my dreams.

Brett Benner:

I don't really much either. My daughter has incredibly vivid dreams and proceeds to tell me all about them every morning. But,

Rachel Khong:

that fun or, is it fun or

Jason Blitman:

She's a teenager.

Brett Benner:

Yeah, she's 17. So they're very usually involves being chased. There are a lot of nightmares.

Rachel Khong:

yeah.

Jason Blitman:

My husband has a lot of nightmares too. And, and he remembers them.

Rachel Khong:

that's so unpleasant. Yeah. Dream Scenario, another movie that's relevant here. Have you seen that?

Brett Benner:

No, what's that one?

Rachel Khong:

It has Nicolas Cage in it and he starts appearing in people's dreams.

Brett Benner:

You're pulling out some winners today. Dream,

Rachel Khong:

just had to mention it. It's relevant to the teenage daughter telling you also about your dreams. about her dreams. She should probably watch that movie. Yeah.

Brett Benner:

just be one more thing, one more thing to add to the pot.

Jason Blitman:

Speaking of nightmares and just like dreams and things and trauma and a question in the book is wondering whether or not sadness is inherited. What do you think?

Rachel Khong:

Oh my goodness. I don't know. I mean, That's the question that I ask, but I don't know. Cause I think in part, yes, I think there's so much that is inherited and that's for better and for worse. It's just a mixed bag for most people. But I think it's, yeah it's You, you do still have agency over your own life, right? And and I think to a degree that nature versus nurture question, right? there's, Yeah, there's

Jason Blitman:

so maybe it's inherited, but you can also do

Rachel Khong:

Yeah. But I also think it's yeah, it definitely, I do feel like it definitely is inherited and some people have it harder than other people. I think that's absolutely true. In so many arenas, so many facets of life, really, it's like some people have it harder than other people, some people find things easier than other people do, and and, yeah. And

Brett Benner:

we also dialogue about it differently now though, too, because, and that was one of the things as an older folk that resonated with me so much, especially With the mother in the story because we talked earlier about the choices you make and what does that mean? But it's also so much about parents and the choices there in this book that recurs so much about the choices we're making Because either we think that's in the best interest for our child or whatnot and the impacts that has in the long terms But I do think about that with dialoguing about something that I found out later in life, like very recently, is that my father really struggled with depression. I never knew that growing up. Certainly, I knew that within my own family structure, and I see it in my child, there is anxiety that exists. Growing up, we didn't have words for that. You just dealt with it. You were told, go outside and play, and that's the way it was handled. We're now. We have words for what these things are. We're dialoguing about it. The first time that I went to a therapist when I came out of college, I remember my father saying to me, why are you doing that? You talk to your friends, that's what your friends are for. And I was like it's, and I had to explain to him it's a different thing. It's someone that's removed. It's, they couldn't get that concept. So it's also just a, such an interesting thing with your, book and also just in the relationship between Lily and her mother. And there, and then Lily and Nick as well and how all those things inform each other.

Rachel Khong:

Yeah. I love so much of what you just brought up. I think it's It, this book is so much about the limits of our own perspectives, our perspectives are so shaped by our upbringing, our culture just, yeah, we have these very limited perspectives and I think even in relationships with people we really love and we're really striving to understand there are these huge. like gaps in our knowledge of them, right? You didn't know what you eventually found out about your father. You didn't know what he went through. And I'm sure, it's that's years of his life, right? That you just weren't privy to. And I think that's something that's always been really interesting to me is especially between parents and children, there are these huge gaps in knowledge, right? I don't remember my life before a certain point like my memory starts at a certain point, and I, my parents know so much more about me as a child than I know about me as a child, but I also don't know anything about who my parents used to be like who they were when they were my age, and I can ask them about it, but the story is It's something, but it's not quite enough, right? I don't, I can't, I've never, I'm never gonna live the experience alongside them. And I think that's a little bit sad, because it's, These are people we love deeply. In, in many cases and and would like to understand more deeply, but I think there's always a limit to how much we can understand our loved ones. And I think for parents and their children, parents are often trying to make the best decision that they can for their kids. Children, but they have limited knowledge, right? Like you can only you can only do the best you can and make some rules for your kid that you think are beneficial to them. For example, Lily doesn't allow Nick to have screens really in his life. He doesn't, she doesn't allow him to have like a smartphone or the internet because she's worried that's it's going to harm him. and then the, yeah. In every sense. in the moment that he is not under her thumb anymore, he's I'm 100 percent gonna get on Instagram or whatever, there's a limit to what we can understand about each other. And I think that's it's just something that's always really interested me and yeah it's a little heartbreaking, I think.

Brett Benner:

And what gets passed down generation to generate, whether you are conscious of it or not, the things that you inherit and how and in some ways to the repetition that starts to happen too, from generation to generation and how that's handled.

Rachel Khong:

yeah, and I think if you don't talk about it, obviously then you're doomed to repeat these past maybe you can call them mistakes, but just you're doomed to repeat the past if you don't talk about it. That's also true of history at large as well,

Brett Benner:

As we're looming on November.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah. And talking about, a parent, doing the best they can, making the choices that they can, it I can't help but wonder what choices are we actually making for ourselves, because society is imposing so much on us, whether it's assimilating, or marketing, or what we are supposed to believe, like how individual are we actually being?

Rachel Khong:

That's something that I was thinking about throughout writing this novel. It's so much about yeah, like marketing, but also just the propaganda of this particular country that we live in, it's, I think I wanted to write about China and America because these are two nations that have a lot of, just like narrative surrounding them. And I think, we think of China and we think propaganda obviously, but in America there are so much propaganda, right? And there's so much there's a sort of narrative that's pushed about what does it mean to be a real American, right? An American like a person who is a productive member of society. What does it mean to be like a valuable member of society? I think we pay a lot of There's a lot of lip service to diversity in this country, but the way it shakes out in our, in our reality, I think we still have a long ways to go, right? I don't think that For the most part everyone is so cool with diversity or cool with people being, like, differently abled of whatever sexual orientation they want, it's there's still so much pressure to be, to conform, and I think we see that especially Like in social media, and I think that's something that I, that feels like worrying to me, right? And so that's why I wanted to write about it. It's like, I feel like we're trending toward homogeneity and that's that's not good.

Brett Benner:

In every facet. Like you watch how the nation, I used to think that's why I used to love to go to Europe. Because every city that you went to was, was had history, was steeped in history. The architecture was different. The places were different here. Everything. Like I remember first coming to LA and it was just sprawl, it was like a mini mall that was spreading out forever. And yet I'd go back. To my parents in Pittsburgh, and it was becoming the same thing. Everything was becoming, everywhere had a Gap, everywhere had a Banana Republic, everywhere had these restaurants. The things that made anything even remotely distinct in our country were being leveled, and everything was just about everybody has a Barnes Noble, and everyone has this, so it's you don't really need to go anywhere, except if you want different weather.

Rachel Khong:

Yeah. No, that's basically it. I, the writer Kyle Chika has this book called filter world. And it's about algorithms and how they've shaped the world. And he talks about this Airbnb aesthetic that you can essentially find everywhere now. It's a sort of Vaguely Scandinavian minimally furnished, either Airbnb or coffee shop or whatever, right? Like, You can go to any other country, just a far flung place, and just still find the same kind of place with, pine furniture that will serve you a cappuccino. And yes. Yes.

Jason Blitman:

it. I think there's some, that's why chain restaurants are a thing.

Brett Benner:

Yeah,

Jason Blitman:

You gravitate to what you know.

Rachel Khong:

But I think the comfort Obviously it's good to be comfortable sometimes, but it's also really good to be uncomfortable, right?

Jason Blitman:

Oh, yeah.

Rachel Khong:

being around people who are different from you is often uncomfortable, but that's what it is. We need to have different perspectives, and to be open to different ways of living. And yeah that's what I'm wondering about, like going to the future is like, are we really going to trend toward like comfort and ease and like frictionless existence? Or are we going to I don't know, just grow have friction and grow from that friction. I think friction is like how you change.

Jason Blitman:

An interesting way that you articulate a lot of this in describing someone who's American born Chinese, they will, when they eat an apple, they'll rinse it and take a bite into it. And if you're not American born Chinese, you will rinse it and slice it into pieces and see who wants a piece.

Rachel Khong:

Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

And there's something, I think that really sums everything that you're talking about. There is this selfishness, but there's also this scarcity idea. And it's no, open the door, invite the neighbor, like share with someone that you may not know, or it might not feel comfortable, but you can bond over this shared experience. And that's a very different thing.

Rachel Khong:

Yeah, I think there's, there are things that both cultures can learn from each other, right? And I think that in America, there is this myth of this idea that we all have pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps, that we, nobody else is responsible for our success. Like we did it on our own. That was something that I was so raised with as a kid. And I think it's something that I'm consciously trying to unlearn because Yeah, I started writing this book during, basically right after the election in 2016. And Brett, you just mentioned November, which is coming up. It's so strange, actually, that it's just circled back to this. And I'm talking about the book right now, when I really started it because of that election. And I think, Yeah, that elected president was like, this example of somebody who really marketed himself as a person who had pulled himself up by his own bootstraps, who didn't owe anything to anybody, who was self made, and it was so clear that, that was so far from the truth.

Brett Benner:

It's Oz.

Rachel Khong:

Yeah, and he had like just had every possible advantage and and I think, yeah, the reality is that we're all in community. We're all in relationships with one another and and we're all responsible for For one another and our lives really like, so why are we like, why do poor people exist in this country? Like, why is it why are people unhoused? Like we should be taking responsibility for those people and making sure that they're housed. And instead there's this other priority, it seems like of like, people instead like racing to be billionaires, I think it's just the priorities are messed up and it's But you know this, this book is about like I don't know. Just questioning, questioning the sort of exaltation of a certain way of self made man, the individual, the powerful individual, right?

Brett Benner:

You have that whole clash at the beginning because I said, it's almost like to me I likened it to almost like the way we were with Hubble and Katie, where these two different worlds are coming together, despite it. He's this kind of Redford S guy who's had everything literally handed to him. And so there's this, how does this, how do these two worlds, come together. How can these two people, and for all intents and purposes, he seems to be going after her. She's what are you doing? I don't even understand like how you would be interested in mage. So it's a fascinating kind of turn on it, but it is exactly what we were talking about. If these two worlds coming, these two diametrically opposed worlds

Rachel Khong:

And she's been raised to believe, that this is like the ideal person, right? I mean, I think they could connect on a deeper level too, but I think that Yeah, I think that there's this understanding that, oh, of course people we can all see why he is desirable, right? He has wealth, he has whiteness, all of these things, and it's the fact that that's, Comprehensible and understandable to people like, oh yeah, this is what you want. This is attractive. Yeah. I think that's something that I was pushing too, like why are, why do we do that? Like, why is that the ideal? Can there be these other ideals,

Jason Blitman:

Why is that ideal? Why are there unhoused people? There are a lot of these interesting questions and one of the things that I clocked as just an interesting concept was the idea of abiding by rules when you understand their inherent purpose. In the book, I have to wonder, do we need to do a better job in society at making sure people understand why the rules are important, and why they're there to begin with, or like why some of these, I say rules in quotation marks, but I think so many people would have an immediate response to supporting the unhoused,

Rachel Khong:

Yeah. Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

right? It's victim blaming, or, not willing to see the big picture and it's okay, but there are these things that are in place that we're choosing not to move forward, or whatever it is. But it's this like interesting there's a, a privilege to, yeah

Brett Benner:

it's Isabel Wilkerson's whole, it's all of that, it's all of that kind of blown open.

Jason Blitman:

And it's people saying, I don't need to follow these rules because they don't apply to me.

Brett Benner:

That's correct.

Rachel Khong:

yeah.

Brett Benner:

It's hard sometimes to because look, I could say living in Los Angeles, you are in a melting pot, right? You are constantly, it's like living in New York, any kind of large urban center. There's a large swath of the country. That is only being centered in and their whiteness, frankly, and so they have no sense of what else is there and they're looking at immigrants as enemies, especially when it's being telegraphed to them. And so it's how do you break those things down? And how do we, for lack of a better word, try to reeducate people to say, okay, these are the benefits as opposed to this is the dire consequence. If that makes

Rachel Khong:

Right. Yeah. I think that's a project of fiction, right? And a project of reading is to enter these other consciousnesses. And and I think it's people have become so cynical about that, right? The sort of capacity for reading to like change minds and lead to empathy. Like empathy is I don't know, in some circles, it's like Can it really lead to, they like doubt it, but I think that I don't know, obviously I still believe in it and that's why I do it, because I think if we aren't trying to understand one another, if we aren't trying to bridge these like really big divides in who just in our perspectives, like how are we gonna yeah, like coexist and understand. I think Yeah, like you were talking about we were talking, I was just thinking that so many people are so fearful of difference of people who are different from them. And I think fear is totally understandable because we live in these sort of overwhelming systems. We feel often like we don't have a lot of. We feel both like we do and don't have choice in our life, right? Like it's we're at the mercy of these huge systems. And I think there's a lot of reasons to feel afraid right now. Like climate change is one of them, obviously, like impending wars. There's these powerful weapons. I don't know. There's a lot of scary things out there. And so, I think it's human nature, right? To want to find your people and probably your people look similar to you and have similar outlooks and perspectives. But I think yeah I do think like books are still like this opportunity to to get outside of that a little bit. It's not, they're not the answer. You do have to like, actually do the work and meet other people and be with real human beings. But I think they're just like one tool by which we can yeah, feel empathy and feel maybe just more humble about our own experiences just like understanding, I think especially with this book, I, it's really so much about it's like a case for humility, which is not very glamorous as like a subject for a book, but it's, I think so it's something that I'm just thinking about so much right now, because I think that we yeah. Are getting very big for our britches, right? And like believing in our own centrality and our own I don't know, like

Brett Benner:

The exceptionalism. The whole idea of American exceptionalism, which I think for many of us have felt like that's been gone for a long time, that when you look at where our education systems are, when you look at other countries in terms of how beyond, how behind we are in so many different things, it's no, like people wake up a little bit and see what things actually are.

Rachel Khong:

Yeah. And I think in that humility, that's where we can connect with one another. That's where we can yeah, understand and think maybe okay I don't know everything about you, but I would like to try to learn more about you.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah. Something that I've never done before that I'm going to do right now is just looking at the time and being mindful of your time. There are a handful of questions that I didn't have a chance to talk about, but there's like much bigger picture things that I want to encourage our listeners to think about as they're reading. And we could, maybe have a bigger picture conversation one day, but the book talks about, real life versus a dream. Real friends. Or whether or not they are your people, or your real friends, real time, real Americans. And I'm curious to our listeners, what does it mean to be real? What does real even mean? Let's, putting that out into the universe.

Brett Benner:

Wow.

Jason Blitman:

Something else,

Brett Benner:

Put your comments below.

Jason Blitman:

put your comments below.

Brett Benner:

That's exactly it. To ponder.

Jason Blitman:

the impulse to keep information from someone else, to keep solely for yourself. Why do we do that? Question for our listeners. And finally, what if the way you love someone is different from how they want to be loved? What do we do?

Rachel Khong:

I love those

Jason Blitman:

big picture, big ether questions to ask to

Brett Benner:

Those are your book club questions that

Jason Blitman:

Those are the book questions, because honestly, the reality is I'm looking at the time and there's something so important that I want to talk to you about and I'm just being selfish here. There, there's an annual holiday themed movie

Rachel Khong:

Yeah

Jason Blitman:

While You Were Sleeping is one of them and Die Hard is another one of them. So While You Were Sleeping gets a shout out and I love that movie. It's one of those movies that for me, I've seen the second half of. So much more than I've seen the first half of because like when it's on TV, I stop and watch

Rachel Khong:

I'm definitely into it, while you were sleeping that's so funny. That's so funny, cause I was thinking about, actually weirdly love mentioning the holidays in my fiction, Because I think it's so evocative as like a, period of, I don't know, just like a season of the year. And I think, especially in this book about America, like the holidays were always such this, like this fraught time for me as this little immigrant kid, right? I grew up knowing that there was no Santa. I hope that's not a spoiler to anybody. Hopefully all your listeners. I grew up just knowing that there was no Santa and having to pretend with all my friends that there was a Santa and it's just such an interesting time, especially for, yeah, for kids who have immigrant parents, right? What are you supposed to say to your friends? And so I think I'm always just drawn to that and drawn to any movies about the holidays, too, I feel like a big sucker for. I just, I love it.

Brett Benner:

But before we had streaming, remember, they would schedule stuff that was particular time of year. Sound of Music was always around Easter. Wizard of Oz, I think, was always, I don't know if it was Christmas, but it was always, so then you, and then you'd get all the like Rankin Bankin show, like the Year Without a Santa Claus, Rudolph, all those stop motion things that we all loved with Herbie the Dentist. So you counted your seasons, Charlie Brown Christmas and Charlie Brown Halloween. And now all that's gone. I remember when my kids were little, they'd be like, can't we just watch the video? And I

Jason Blitman:

It's April! We could watch Charlie Brown right now!

Brett Benner:

that's exactly right.

Jason Blitman:

I'm gonna watch A Muppet Christmas Carol as soon as we get off this

Brett Benner:

That's right. Exactly right.

Rachel Khong:

I love it. I think as a result of I'm like, insisting on holiday movies around holiday time because I'm like, they're not going to do it for me. I need some, I need to watch It's a Wonderful Life right now.

Jason Blitman:

If you're not under a blanket. Yeah. Back to herbs for a second. Are you familiar with kava?

Rachel Khong:

I'm familiar. I haven't really used it. Yeah. Are you a kava

Jason Blitman:

I ask because I live across the street from what's called Kava Collective, and I tried it for the first time last week, and I was like, what is this?

Rachel Khong:

Is it like coffee?

Jason Blitman:

It's maybe it's like a cousin of coffee. It's not coffee. It's like a root that is. steeped.

Brett Benner:

Have you

Jason Blitman:

and then, and then flavored. Literally the kava that I had was ube, ube kava. Coming back to the

Brett Benner:

And do they sweeten it? Or do you sweeten it? Or is it sweet when it

Jason Blitman:

no, and it was served cold, and it like makes your tongue and your throat a little numb. And, but it's supposed to be really good for you and good for your inflammation and all of these things. But it's just so freaking weird. And as you were talking about your, mugwort baths, I was like, maybe you also know kava.

Rachel Khong:

How did it make you feel?

Jason Blitman:

Very soporific.

Rachel Khong:

That's

Jason Blitman:

Yeah. It's it was

Brett Benner:

Wow. Good vocabulary word.

Jason Blitman:

Thank you. It was weird ingesting, but I appreciated the sort of zen feeling it gave you.

Rachel Khong:

Did you do it socially? Like with a friend or you did it alone?

Jason Blitman:

I was with a friend, and it was, it's this thing where it's okay, it's across the street, I've never been in, I've lived in this apartment for two years, let's, I'm so curious. And we went in and we had a whole experience.

Brett Benner:

I picture the two of you talking afterwards with your your tingly tongues and be like, Oh, the input thing.

Jason Blitman:

I was reading a book, actually. Yeah, very true. They have like couches. It's very Zen.

Rachel Khong:

Wow.

Jason Blitman:

Okay. Lily listens to people while they're at restaurants. Do you do that?

Rachel Khong:

Yes. A hundred percent.

Jason Blitman:

Me too. Do you ever insert yourself?

Rachel Khong:

I don't insert myself, but I definitely judge. Like the other day I was at a cafe and there was a woman with her dog and her dog would bark at every person, but she would pretend each time, like it was the dog's first time, like she'd be like, Oh no, he never does that. He

Jason Blitman:

He did four minutes ago. Yeah. No, I'll be like, Oh you're deciding between the burger and the scallops. I've been here before. I'm telling you do this one. Like I'll do

Rachel Khong:

That's good. You should. Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

what I think. Okay.

Rachel Khong:

Benefit.

Jason Blitman:

The last thing I wanted to share with you is you are our 50th episode.

Rachel Khong:

Whoa.

Jason Blitman:

We started this in June of last year. We had no idea that people would actually be interested in talking to us. And it's been. overwhelming and so special and remarkable and this is our 50th one and so

Brett Benner:

And we're thrilled that you are here for our

Rachel Khong:

Wow. Congratulations. That's amazing.

Jason Blitman:

Very special. Congrats on the book

Brett Benner:

Yes, It's great. It's great. It's really exciting.

Jason Blitman:

thank you so much for joining us.

Rachel Khong:

Congratulations on 50. I was almost going to say 50 years, but 50 episodes.

Brett Benner:

I would have said thank

Rachel Khong:

years. May you have 50 more years, a hundred more years. And thank you so much. This was so fun

Jason Blitman:

Oh, I'm glad. Thanks, Rachel. Have

Brett Benner:

Have a great rest of your

Rachel Khong:

you. Yeah. You too.

Jason Blitman:

Rachel, thank you so much for our 50th episode. Everybody, again, thank you. We, we're so grateful to our listeners and everybody, who has been supporting us along this journey and we can't wait for more

Brett Benner:

for more. We have great stuff coming up. So stick around.

Jason Blitman:

and have a great rest of your day. Bye.