Literary Minds Online Book Club: ‘The Caveman’s Valentine’

We did it. The Literary Minds Online Book Club accepted the challenge to read and review four books in four weeks in May for Mental Health Month. The book club was the brainchild of  the Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency’s  Community Education Committee.

On this Memorial Day, we discuss “The Caveman’s Valentine” by George Dawes Green, the only work of fiction in the series. (Confession: Had I known that a movie existed of  “The Caveman’s Valentine,” starring  Samuel L. Jackson, I’d have probably watched it and saved the reading. But, alas, I didn’t learn of the movie until today. That’s OK, most people think books are better than their movies.)

This story is about Romulus Ledbetter, a homeless, mentally ill man who lives in a New York City cave. On Valentine’s Day he discovers a body’s been dumped at the mouth of the cave , but not before he catches a glimpse of the dumper, as well as the get-away car.

It turns out the victim is Scotty Gates, the friend of one of Ledbetter’s fellow homeless friends, who convinces Ledbetter that Gate was murdered, and he’s pretty sure he knows who did it.

For an added twist, Ledbetter is a former Julliard student, and a brilliant pianist. And he’s smart. And his daughter is a New York City cop. And Ledbetter wears a tin cap to keep the Z-rays from penetrating his brain. And in his cave he keeps an empty, broken television, upon which he “watches” flashbacks of his life, such as the day his wife kicked him out for good (clever way to tell Ledbetter’s back story).

He sets out to solve Gates’ murder, but he has obstacles, such as the fact that he’s homeless, and considered crazy by everyone. Even so, he meets inside a Catholic church confessional booth from time to time with an NYC detective, Jack Cork, who’s also trying to solve Gates’ murder.

Much of the story reminded me of that saying about just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t talking about you, because some of the things that Ledbetter comes up with do seem crazy. But, on the other hand, there’s some truth to his discoveries, too.

George Dawes Green does a great job telling his story in an unorthodox way in that we find ourselves connecting with and rooting for Ledbetter, someone whom, in the first few pages of the book, I couldn’t identify with.  In the end, some of his paranoia seems absolutely reasonable, and I’m cheering for him.

I don’t want to give away the ending for those who’ve not read the book, so I won’t say any more.

Readers, what did you think of the story?

Finally, before we go,  I offer my most sincere appreciation to the Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency and its Community Education Committee, and everyone involved who made this first Literary Minds Online Book Club possible on Special recognition goes to the ever-talented Kerri Schuette, community education specialist for SCHHSA, who not only provided the books, but was our dependable liaison between the SCHHSA and Thank you!

And, as an aside, readers, what do you think of the concept of holding another book club in the future on Shall we try this again some time?

Click here for Week 1 of the Literary Minds Online Book Club, “Divided Minds: Twin Sisters and Their Journey Through Schizophrenia,” by Pamela Spiro Wagner, and Carolyn S. Spiro, M.D.

Click here for Week 2, “Grand Central Winter: Stories from the Street,” by Lee Stringer.

Click here for Week 3, Breaking the Silence – Overcoming a Family History of Alcoholism and Suicide,” by Mariette Hartley (& Anne Commire).

Click here for the introduction.

doni-new-mugIndependent 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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7 Responses

  1. Avatar JeffG says:

    My vote is for continuing the book club (at a more relaxed pace)

  2. Avatar Kerri says:

    Doni, I wanted to thank you one more time for leaping into this project with the Health and Human Services Agency. In addition to the fine folks who have been sharing their opinions about the books on your website, I've been delighted to hear positive comments from others who have not commented here (I'm not sure why – stage fright, maybe?). I was particularly struck by a comment from a woman who said she frequently works with people who have schizophrenia and has always empathized with them, but after reading "Divided Minds," she said she gained a more true understanding of the challenges that such a disorder poses. For me, getting a glimpse into the heads of people whose struggles I can only imagine has been enlightening, humbling and educational, and I would definitely participate in future book clubs. 🙂 Thank you, thank you.

  3. Avatar Canda says:

    I'd definitely be interested in this on-line book club. I'm hoping I'll be able to obtain a CD of some of the books. It's been fun reading the comments even though I haven't read any of last month's books. Neat idea!

  4. Avatar Katie says:


    Thank you for not only leading these amazing discussions about many aspects of mental health, but also for your time in reading these books! I have followed the month long discussions from afar because, while I had much I wanted to say, I did not make it through any of these books. It did fill me up to hear many of my thoughts and sentiments voiced by others. I say this book club was an outstanding success! Congrats to you, the ever-talented Kerri Schuette and the rest who commented, thought about or were moved by the discussions!

    As a thought… National Suicide Prevention Week is September 4-10. What about a book club discussion then?

  5. Avatar GW (Grammy Wells) says:


    Just a note to tell you I very much appreciated your giving your fans (including myself among them) a chance to see if we could read four books in four weeks.

    😉 I might have been able to do it if it were not that I absolutely had to read

    "Divided Minds" twice. In fact, I'm intending to purchase my own copy and read it a third time and (because it will be mine instead of the library's and I can feel free to make notations in the margins.) I was quite interested in this particular book since I come from a family of multiple births (mostly twins with a few triplets) and also had an Aunt who was diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic in her teens, an Uncle (her brother), an M.D., who committed suicide in his 50s and my Grandmother (their mother and a graduate of Cornell University) who committed suicide at the age of 101.

    Even though I grew up with all of this emotional upheaval around me and saw what it did to the other relatives, it wasn't really discussed with me because I was a child. As I grew older I would sometimes ask some questions and occasionally get some answers, but it was not really explained to those of us who were considered not old enough to understand "things like that".

    As I read "Divided Minds" and also when I read "Breaking the Silence" a lot of things I had never been able to ferret out answers to, jumped out at me…and I began to understand what had been going on and also found it very interesting so see how my different relatives had dealt with the problems as they had

    impinged on their lives.

    I'm so glad to find that over the years mental health is no longer stashed in a closet and that actually there are medications and therapies that can really help a patient…as well as the families that are under such a strain.

    I am the parent of a Borderline daughter who makes my life very exciting because as soon as she feels better, she quits taking her medicine. Know- ing what I have learned about mental illness in the past twenty years, I no longer have to carry the burden that somehow her problems are all my fault. And, perhaps, more importantly, I am learning how to avoid feeding into her shenanigans.

    I apologize for getting so carried away. But, I wanted you to understand that these books have spoken to me this past month and that I am so very grateful. Let us not let this opportunity get away from us. How about only 1 or 2 books a month next time.

  6. Well, Grammy Wells, your comment was not carried away. In fact, I think that Kerri and her crew would be as pleased as I am to see the life-changing effects their Literary Minds Online Book Club produced.

    GW, I felt so moved to read that you'd read Divided Minds twice, and that you're buying your own copy, simply because of the impact it had on you and your life.

    See? This is exactly the kind of response I'd expect here on Insightful, honest, deep.

    I know that many others sat in on our virtual book club, and we were pleased and delighted to have you here. Whether it's commenters like Katie or Canda, or those content to hang out and take it all it, we were happy to have you part of the book club.

    I appreciate you all. And, yes, I do believe we'll do this again some time. Stay tuned.

    Enjoy this blustery day, everyone.