Literary Minds Online Book Club: ‘Breaking the Silence’

Welcome to the third week of’s Literary Minds Online Book Club, a partnership with Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency, in honor of Mental Health Month.

I hope you visited our first week’s meeting in my virtual living room, where we discussed “Divided Minds – Twin Sisters and Their Journey Through Schizophrenia,” by Pamela Spiro Wagner and Carolyn S. Spiro, M.D., and the second week, when we featured “Grand Central Winter,” by Lee Stringer.

This week’s featured selection is “Breaking the Silence – Overcoming a Family History of Alcoholism and Suicide,” by Mariette Hartley (& Anne Commire).

Just a reminder that we realize it’s ambitious to cover four books in one month, but if anyone could do it, I trust readers to rise to the challenge.

Even so, please keep in mind that we welcome comments about the topics (for this book it’s alcoholism and suicide), even if you’ve not read the books. Remember that this project is more about an opportunity for a sincere community discussion about mental health, and less about each book. The books are just the springboard to a conversation. Also, just because we’ve moved on to another book, doesn’t mean we’ve closed the cover on the previous books. We can continue talking about them for as long as you leave comments.

Next Monday we’ll conclude the book club with our final book, “The Caveman’s Valentine,” by George Dawes Green.  

But until then, let’s jump into this week’s book, “Breaking the Silence.”

I’ll go first.

Well. You know how in last week’s book, “Grand Central Winter,” I said my favorite parts were when Lee Stringer talked about his life on the streets? I have a similar observation about “Breaking the Silence.” The parts that touched me most were when Hartley spoke of her family traumas, whether about her maternal grandfather, John Broadus Watson, the founder of “behaviorism” – or about her father’s alcoholism, depression and eventual suicide, or her mother’s myriad suicide attempts, or Hartley’s own brushes with less serious mental health issues.

True, this book touched lightly on those subjects (or  how would I have known to mention them?) but mostly it covered details about Hartley’s life as an actress. (She’s probably best know for Polaroid commercials with James Garner, but she also appeared in many television shows and movies. You may recall her brief stint as host of  the CBS show “The Morning Program.”)

I must admit, though, I was pretty entertained by the stories about her courtship and marriage to her French husband, and the birth of their children.

In this book, Hartley liberally drops the names of many famous people she worked with, which I suppose could be expected when someone in show business writes any book. 

But let’s stick to the mental health angle, shall we?

Toward the end of the book Hartley made a comment about suicide that rung true in a way I’d never heard described:

“A lot of people, especially in their teenage years, have contemplations of ‘wouldn’t it be nice if this were all over.’ As I watched my father being wheeled out, part of me said, ‘My God, this works. Suicide really works. Don’t mess around with it anymore.’ But another part of me wanted to die with him.” 

She went on to write about the stigma of suicide for those left behind, and how common it is for families to keep  their loved one’s suicide a secret.

I have some thoughts on this topic myself, which I’ll share. But first I’d like to give you a chance to comment with your feedback.


Click here for the first week’s discussion of “Divided Minds, Twin Sisters and Their Journey Through Schizophrenia.”

Click here for the second week’s discussion of “Grand Central Winter,” by Lee Stringer.

Independent online journalist Doni Greenberg founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Greenberg was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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8 Responses

  1. Avatar Kerri says:

    Doni, my initial thoughts mirrored yours almost exactly. Mariette Hartley's career was a little before my time, so I wasn't all that interested in the "actress" parts of the book – I agree that it felt like a lot of name-dropping and not a whole lot of substance in those areas, so I found myself skimming to the real-life segments. I was especially struck by her observation that after a family member would exhibit appalling behavior while heavily intoxicated, it was virtually ignored by that person (and everyone else) the next morning. No apology, no explanation – just pretend it never happened, until the next time. Maybe it really does disappear for the alcoholic, but not so much for the others.

    I do feel like I have a lot more compassion for people with mental illnesses like depression and schizophrenia than I do for people with substance abuse addictions, and I am starting to realize that's unfair.

    One more thought… as a mom, it made me ill to read about her psychology expert grandfather's approach to children. His books proclaimed that love or close physical contact made children too dependent, and parents should maintain "a sophisticated aloofness" from their children, and "the child's wishes, needs, feelings were treated as if they did not exist." So much to say on this topic beyond "WHAAAAT?!"… but I won't be a conversation hog. 🙂 (Oh, too late!)

    Thanks, Doni, for starting this dialog.

    • Kerri, the behavior you refer to, where an alcoholic episode isn't mentioned later, calls upon the family and friends to participate by almost normalizing it.

      Also, like you, I was fascinated by information about "Big

      John" Hartley's grandfather's child-rearing theories, and his book, . It made me wonder how many parents bought into his suggestions, such as withholding affection and limiting contact and having rigid bathroom training … and how those kids turned out, and how that impacted how they parented … and the subsequent generational ripple effect.

      OK, I'm going to make some coffee and check emails and Facebook.

      But I'll be right back.

      I'm looking foward to hearing others' thoughts about alcoholism and suicide. (Gosh, and maybe the impact of fad child-rearing philosophies.)

    • Avatar Susan says:

      It is great that Mental Health Awareness month is recognizing these issues and these books.

      It is important that our society work with our young people (and by young, I mean from birth to age 26) to build assets that will help them overcome some of the issues in life. We know that children with assets (and I am referring here to the Search Institute's 40 Developmental Assets) are more likely to take a positive path than a negative path (drugs, alcohol, sexual activity). We used to raise our children differently than we do now, and I fear that the current generation is at more risk that previous ones.

      Keep up the good work Shasta County! smw

  2. Avatar JeffG says:

    I wish I could add more to the discussion, but in three attempts I failed to make it thirty pages before my B-list diva tolerance reserves were completely depleted. A shame too, it sounds like there were some worthwhile nuggets to be found later on.

  3. Avatar Roxanne B. says:

    Ms. Hartley has lead a successful life both professionally and personally, despite her experience with a family full of classic dysfunction. It's a testament to the resiliency of a human being, but I think there's more at play here. And I think the key is in her chosen book title: "Breaking the Silence." It would appear she realizes that talking about the heavy issues of suicide, mental illness and addiction helps us deal with them in an open, honest way. And it can connect us to others who will listen and share their own trials. In short, my takeaway is talk to someone when you're hurting and listen when someone needs to talk. You never know when you could make a difference in someone's life.

    • Avatar Tammy D says:


      What a great response. I fully agree with your analysis. It was not my favorite book, and the Hollywood parts did seem to go on forever. That said, guilt and shame must play a big part in the "hidden" aspects of mental illness and drug and alcohol addictions. You are spot on with the importance of people taking the time to "listen" and being present for someone you see who is suffering. That became more and more apparent in the Spiro's "Divided Minds" book. Even the twin found it difficult to listen to her sister. A public discussion of how to help by being able to listen when others are in need would be useful.

      • Avatar Roxanne B. says:

        A public discussion is a great idea! I just attended a suicide prevention training called QPR (think CPR for people in crisis). It stands for Question, Persuade and Refer…three easy steps to get someone sharing what's going on and get them the help they need. I'm not a mental health professional, but after the training I feel I could help someone get through the crisis before referring them to professional help (1-800-SUICIDE for example). I think the booklet sums it up nicely: "When you apply QPR you plant seeds of hope. Applying QPR brings a personal crisis out of the dark and into the light. QPR is a positive, hopeful technique, and it is hope, more than anything else, that helps reduce the risk of premature death by suicide. Hope begins with you!"

  4. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyde says:

    I love this book club concept and reading your article and the responses. Please continue this feature. I'll jump in on the next round.