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Book Review: You Don't Have to Do It Alone: The Power of Friendship by Mark Nepo

You Don't Have to Do It Alone: The Power of Friendship

by Mark Nepo


St. Martin's Press pub date: 16-July-2024




minimalist book cover design; flock of white geese flying over purple water with white text

This review is a courtesy provided by NetGalley.


Publisher's Summary:


A celebration of friendship and community from bestselling author Mark Nepo


In his newest book, New York Times bestselling author Mark Nepo turns his attention to the value of community, offering another insightful and inspiring take on our shared human experience. You Don’t Have to Do It Alone is an earnest exploration and joyous affirmation of one of the most important aspects of being human: friendship.


Sharing examples from history, mythology, and his own life, Mark unravels the nuances of close friendships, and reveals how a true friend can be the key to our own aliveness—because only in the presence of unconditional love can we feel safe enough to be who we truly are. Journal prompts and thought-provoking quotes from notable philosophers enhance Mark’s reflections, providing readers with the tools necessary to understand and cultivate the friendships in their own lives.


Mark Nepo explores all that it takes to love another and be loved, ultimately showing that—despite what we’ve been taught—you don’t have to do it alone.


Review:


Mark Nepo's book, You Don't Have to Do It Alone is accessible to newcomers of his work. This book is set up in a similar way to his past books.


  • Chapter content

  • Quotes before and included in each chapter

  • Passages from other texts or oral traditions

  • Questions to ask yourself at the end of each chapter

  • Discussion topic with others at the end of each chapter


Nepo may not have friends like the average reader—he mentions Oprah several times—but friendship should be something relatable to everyone. I have a feeling it isn't. I'm sure there are people out there in the world that go through life without that special connection to even a single person, no less a group of them, through no fault of their own.


Nepo writes truly from his heart.


He does a fair job at guessing what people from the past were like in their relationships when very rarely do people really know what goes on between two people. One of his stories about a pair of friends that have a histrionic outcome is between the Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gaugin. It's a well-known story, but even today, open to guessing and interpretation. This gets to the climactic moment when Van Gogh cuts off his ear and supposedly gives it to a female sex worker he befriended. Van Gogh, himself, contains too many multitudes for an author to do proper justice to him in one chapter; try it with Vincent's troubled relationship with Gaugin is nearly futile. What Nepo managed to do was introduce these people from history and give a reasonable introduction to those who may never have heard about them. In a book with forty-five sections required a reader's attention, an introduction is about all anyone can expect from something that isn't a biography.


In the chapter titled "The Laughing Monks," Nepo finally addresses something that I was not alone in questioning: was his relationship with Robert something more than heterosexual friendship? He said that over the years, people have assumed they were a gay couple because they're so close. When a female friend of his read the draft manuscript, she said it plainly. It sounds like he is in love with Robert; to wit, Nepo exuberantly answers that he because he is truly in love with all his friends.


The woman who pointed that out hit the nail on the head that men are often not allowed to be so intimately close in non-sexual friendships. As a cisgender woman, I don't even know what it's like for two women to be best friends like in the movies, TV shows, and books that I consume. Fandom sexualizes every relationship including the two brothers of Supernatural, Dean and Sam Winchester. People don't seem to allow non-sexual closeness.


So, how do Mark Nepo achieve non-sexual closeness in his life and have the language skills to write about it?


He discusses the people who helped him through marital celebrations and endings; his cancer diagnosis and when he physically needed nursing and love to continue living; and as noted, he includes fables that he uses as guidance like people who wrote letters to each other thousands of years before email or international shipping. By giving examples of the good times and bad times between people, Nepo shows that relationships are never going to be perfect because of the human factor. He even points out how much we can learn from dogs.


Let me be transparent here. As a reviewer and a yoga teacher, I have never had a best friend that wasn't a cat. There are about ten times in my 50 years when I thought I had a best friend. I had an imaginary one based on a girl that I wanted to be my best friend when I was around 3-6 years old. I've even told people, So-and-so is my best friend, we text every day–only to find out the feeling was not reciprocal. And I get ghosted. And then I'm full of embarrassment, shame, curiosity about WTF I must have done wrong, and depression.


Coming from all that, I still enjoyed enough of the book that I can find more resource potential in it than some of his others. I think from a yoga perspective, our relationships to other humans, the planet, the animals, and everything are mostly lacking. In a studio setting, I would definitely use the journal prompts he gives at the end of chapters as meditation prompts and inspiration for themes for intention setting.


One of the chapters discusses how there are times when someone might be giving too much of themselves in a relationship that is not balanced or fair. Not that there needs to be a scorecard in friendship, but it should never be totally one-sided. He prompts readers to think of time when they weren't asked, but still ended up giving away a part of themselves and what did it take to come to that realization that it was happening.


Summary:


This book speaks to cisgender, heteronormative, male friendships for the most part. Nepo does occasionally mention women, including his ex-wives, but women never feel like a focal point. There's also no discussion on neurodiversity or other living conditions which can affect interpersonal behavior.


Mark Nepo's You Don't Have to Do It Alone: The Power of Friendship is an excellent resource for:

  • school teachers (if you aren't banning books);

  • adolescents and teens who are vulnerable to feeling like they have no friends or need to be someone they aren't;

  • anyone who has felt the pains of being used by someone they thought was a friend;

  • anyone wanting to explore cisgender male friendships in particular.


5 stars

Rating: 5 stars

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