A book of essays? What is this? The ’80s?
IN a media environment dominated by six-second video clips and 140-character ideas, Chris Turner is an extreme anomaly. The Calgary author and journalist has made a name for himself in Canada as a purveyor of long-form, essaylength non-fiction — a popular format during the golden era of magazines in the 20th century, but about as common today as rotary telephones and TV sets with rabbit ears. Since the late 1990s, Turner has written award-winning pieces in publications such as Shift magazine, Time and Utne Reader. He’s also authored five books, including The War On Science, a 2013 evisceration of the demolition of Canada’s research capacity under the Harper government. Turner’s newest book, How To Breathe Underwater, gathers 15 of his essays and articles — almost as an act of defiance against the diminishing attention span of the modern media consumer. The collection of long-form works, published by Windsor, Ont., imprint Biblioasis, focuses on three areas that have undergone what Turner calls “radical change” over the past two decades — technology, pop culture and climate change. “If you look at where all three of those things were when I was a teenager in the ’80s and where they are today, they’re almost totally unrecognizable,” the 41-year-old Calgarian said earlier this week in Winnipeg, where he was speaking about federal science policy. “A phone was a thing attached to a wall. There were five channels on TV and you had to be physically in front of it. It’s still a living memory.” In an introductory essay in How To Breathe, Turner muses he was unwittingly assigned to a “radical change beat” when he started working in Toronto for the now-defunct Shift, which was at the forefront of the dot-com explosion when few other media outlets covered technology. He said he wound up in the right place at the right time in journalism “completely by accident.” At a time when interns struggled to do more than perform menial tasks, his first published piece saw him travel to the Caribbean to cover the rise of online gambling. “I didn’t realize this was the case at the time, but I found this temporary, open window,” he said. He’s still working in that long-form space, which has outlasted the ’90s tech bubble.