Oneworld, £18.99, pp320
When 17-year-old cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason won BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2016, there was plenty that was remarkable about his success: he was the first black player to have won the prize and state-educated to boot. He also happens to be just one of seven siblings, all of whom are classically trained musicians. His mother’s account of the family’s journey is riveting, taking in prejudice as well as sacrifice. There are 4.30am starts, lost instruments, fractured wrists, all captured with vivid flourishes that render sudden media exposure, for instance, “a kind of enchanted violence”. A paean to camaraderie and hard graft, this thoughtful, joyous book is also a parenting manual like no other.
Canongate, £16.99, pp304
At 35, Nora Seed is stuck in her home town of Bedford, working in a dead-end job and living alone with her cat. When she attempts to take her own life, she finds herself transported to a celestial library whose shelves are lined with stories of roads not taken. Caught between life and death, she has the chance to try on different selves – the Nora she might have become had she stuck at swimming, or not walked away from that recording contract, or gone through with her wedding. Droll and philosophically inclined, she’s a protagonist to root for, ably carrying this whimsical yet shrewd fable of the shrivelling effects of regret.
Bård Borch Michalsen (trans by Christine Rae Walter)
Sceptre, £8.99, pp176
That Michalsen ends the introduction to his punctuation primer with an exclamation mark reveals plenty. He is certainly no red-pen-wielding pedant, though the book’s middle section deals amusedly with some serious grammatical feuds, such as the two Parisian professors who fought a duel over a semicolon. The need for punctuation arose, he notes, with the invention of printing. Times are changing again with the rise of “chat-writing” – the hybrid of written and spoken language that we heedlessly thumb into our phones – and rather than getting het up about Oxford commas, he concludes that we’d do well to recall two truths: that punctuation is endlessly adaptable and forever vital to effective communication.