Bijal A Shah

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Dying alone feels like the ultimate death penalty. Dying alone feels ugly. I’ve spent my life running away from things when they get ugly. Until I was confronted with it, when my paternal grandmother died. Alone.

She’d been alone in her final moments due to Covid-19 stripping her of the dignity to die with familiar faces, with her loved ones around her.

Her death and loss had been a rude awakening for me. Ironically, in the ancient Indian religion of Jainism, we pray for someone’s soul to attain Moksh (Jain enlightenment) — yet I was the one who’d achieved a…

Growing up in Kenya, East Africa in the 1980s, was like growing up in a caged paradise — beautiful outdoor landscapes and nature visits — in a backdrop of staggering crime levels and targeted attacks on the Asian community, which meant that there wasn’t always lots to do for budding teenagers. I often spent hours on end at the community library totally absorbed in fiction — and I’d often use literature as the antidote to teenage angst. I lived in an Orthodox Jain community and mental health and well-being were unheard of. We didn’t talk about many of the issues…

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I recently lost my paternal grandmother of almost 90 years old to Covid-19. Still in the process of grieving, I found myself reflecting on our memories together and how these memories were shifting form in my mind. I felt compelled to write about them, perhaps as a way of healing through therapeutic writing. This past year, as many people have faced losses in some shape or form, I wonder how they feel about the power of memory. Here are my reflections in a confessional poem.

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At the start of the pandemic, as we started to make sense of what was happening, as the world began to shut down and global and local markets paused, as governments rapidly deployed armies of medical staff to cope with mass illness as a result of Covid-19, I looked at my toddlers — a 1.5 year old and a 3 year old. Did they really understand what was happening? They could sense that some sort of change was taking place — but did they really understand? Why we couldn’t see family and friends, why we had to wear a mask…

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Hello! This is our selection of the most notable books of 2020 spanning both fiction and non-fiction, ranging from literary fiction, pandemic fiction, young adult, romance, mystery and thrillers, LGBTQIA+ as well as a wonderful choice of non-fiction including best political and business books, memoirs and biographies and travel and cookbooks.

Also to help you get the most out of your reading life don’t forget to sign up to our signature Bibliotherapy, Literature & Mental Health online course or our personalised reading service (tailored book recommendations and curated reading lists)!

Best Literary Fiction of 2020

1. The Vanishing Half( Literary Fiction/Historical Fiction) by Brit Bennett

“I’ve never known any trouble that an hour’s reading didn’t assuage”. The words of French philosopher Charles De Secondat and author of the controversial book ‘The Spirit of the Laws’ continue to resonate today. Its premise is bibliotherapy, which is the use of literature as therapy. Biblio is the Greek word for books and therapy stems from the Greek word therapeia which literally means ‘to help medically’.

The modern-day term ‘book therapy’ is often cited too, as is the word ‘bibliocounselling’, both describe the prescription of literature, as a form of art therapy, that enables greater self-awareness, cathartic relief and…

Rethinking Therapeutic Literature

When I came across Dr Kelda Green’s book, Rethinking Therapeutic Literature, I was fascinated — Dr Green had recently completed her PhD on the therapeutic aspects of literature and was sharing insights from her research. Her book was essentially a trim-down version of her PhD thesis and I wanted to know more. Particularly as her work aligns closely with Book Therapy’s mission: accessing the therapeutic benefits of literature.

Dr Green was born and grew up in South London. She read English and French at The University of Liverpool, graduating in 2009. She went on to complete a Master’s degree in…

I recently had a client ask me to curate a personalised book prescription for literary fiction books written by Black British authors in the wake of the #blacklivesmovement. This is the list I curated. It includes a diverse range of young adult fiction and literary fiction written by Black British authors including my two favourites, Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman Other and Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give. I’ve also thrown in a book by Marlon James whose magical realism books, A Brief History of Seven Killings and Black Leopard, Red Wolf are just mind-blowing. Lastly, I’ve chosen some lyrical poetry…

Literature affords us, familiar friends, through the silent passage of words — it forges our connection with fictional and real-life characters recreating the experience of an authentic friendship — with friends who are almost more perfect than the ones in real life. …


Born a Jain, I’ve always hoped for a children’s book on the beautiful philosophy that’s over 2000 years old.

Jain, a word derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Jina’ describes the path of enlightenment and salvation over successive re-births by removing karma and embracing an ethical and spiritual existence. It also prescribes non-violence to living creatures, including plants. It’s peaceful nature and compassionate and thoughtful way of life are wholesome life lessons for any child.

A month ago, on the auspicious Jain occasion of Mahavir Jayanti, authors Nirav Gudka and Sunita Shah of The Jai Jais published “Mahavir”, the story…

Bijal A Shah

Book therapist, author, poet & founder of Book Therapy - therapy using the power of literature: and

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