Bylines and Blessings

Through the marvel of today’s technology, we easily can access millions of brilliant life lessons found in the books, speeches, and words of countless people through the ages. Yet, in most cases sitting a twenty-year-old down with samples of this wisdom will yield little benefit. Most human beings seem to need to make our own mistakes and learn our own lessons. If we manage to learn and accept bits of insight from those who came before us, we have a head start. Sometimes, having that leg up, or the humility to seek it, makes the difference between happiness and sullenness.

I just finished reading two memoirs of aspiring writers, one right after the other—which made the contrast between them quite striking. The first was Class by Stephanie Land, an extremely clever title with its reference both to her college studies and to different social and economic classes in the United States. The second was Bylines and Blessings, detailing the reality of combining serious career ambition with being committed to building a faith and family-filled life, written by Judy Gruen.

Ms. Land’s book is a sequel to her previous best-seller, Maid, a book that became a Netflix series and a sensation. I wrote about it at the time, including these words:

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive…showed the difficult struggle of a young woman to support herself with menial work. She was cleaning houses instead of continuing her education…

Ms. Land is admirable. I appreciate that she did not opt for an abortion and that she was willing to scrub toilets in order to put food on the table. What I found missing in the book was her taking responsibility for randomly sleeping with a stranger one night, an evening that had grave repercussions.

This second book, written by the same woman who has now completed her bachelor’s degree and, thanks to the reception of her first book, is earning more than most Americans, is full of anger and rancor. Relating her path before becoming a best-selling author, a few concepts annoyingly repeat, somewhat like the tapping of a woodpecker on a tree. These include lots of drinking and sex, and proclamations of her ‘rights,’ what she and her daughter (and anyone living in poverty) ‘deserve,’ and why she should be supported in whatever she wishes to do, including this time around, both an abortion and choosing to have another child while still unmarried and in school. To my ear, her cries sound like a three-year-old having a tantrum, “But I waaant toooo,” and “It’s not FAIR.” My assumption is that her college courses and the adulation of NPR and the rest of the Leftist press did not advance her maturation.

Judy Gruen has written some of my favorite humor books and while her most recent two books are more serious in nature; they too are written with a light touch and give the reader much reason to smile and even laugh. Bylines and Blessings runs side-by-side with her previous memoir recounting her path to traditional Judaism, one that ran through the classes and synagogue that my husband led. This book focuses on Judy’s passion for writing and her serious pursuit of that craft. As someone who had aspirations in the writing field but who didn’t treat them with Judy’s professionalism, I especially enjoyed those sections of the book detailing her hard work in that area. Many will relate to her dawning recognition that juggling marriage, family, friendships, faith, and career means making choices and compromises, along with deciding what truly is most important. Above all, the book is filled with gratitude for what she has rather than resentment at what she is missing.

Two authors, two books. One author is full of bitterness despite runaway book sales, while the other author is counting her blessings despite achieving less dazzling monetary success from her written efforts. One book encourages the reader to bristle and look at fellow citizens with envy and irritation, while the other helps the reader find joy and fulfillment in life. I know which book I will be giving as a gift over the next few months.

This Musing is dedicated in memory of Dan Asulin, age 38. The head of a town near Gaza’s security team, he was killed as he repelled Hamas terrorists. Dan and his wife had a little girl and his wife gave birth to a son two months after his death. In an interview, his nephew said, “…he was just a person who thought of other people first and then himself — he endangered himself so that others wouldn’t be in danger.”

And with continued prayers for the safety of the hostages and their return, and among them, Yair Horn, age 45. He was taken hostage from Kibbutz Nir Oz, where a quarter of the Kibbutz were abducted or murdered. Born in Argentina, Yair’s family immigrated to Israel.

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