The week’s best arts and culture reads – including the internet’s effect on Hollywood’s golden boy, The West Wing’s greatest episode and the poems of a lifetime.

The Moby Dick variations
Robin Sloan | The Message | 22 May 2014
How much can you change a novel before it stops being the same novel? It’s a question straight out of Borges, whose fictional Library of Babel contained every possible permutation of every possible book. But what if you posited a branch-library of Babel containing only variants of Moby Dick? Where would that end?

Seventeen people
Jon White | Seventeen People | 21 May 2014
Words-and-pictures re-telling of Seventeen People, Season Two Episode 18 of The West Wing, which creator Jon White considers to be Aaron Sorkin’s masterpiece and “the single greatest episode of television ever created”. White breaks down the episode into five overlaid themes: intrigue, persuasion, drama, comedy and romance; with Toby Ziegler at their centre.

How YouTube destroyed Tom Cruise
Amy Nicholson | LA Weekly | 20 May 2014
Tom Cruise’s early public profile was closely managed in the way that reputations still could be in the 1980s when the gossip media consisted mainly of eight big magazines. He was serious and self-effacing. Then the internet hit. Tom Cruise, movie star, became Tom Cruise, fruitcake and Scientologist, jumping on Oprah’s couch. “We gave him up for a gif”.  

The Los Angeles review of cups
Maria Bustillos | LA Review of Books | 19 May 2014
Review of the short stories printed on Chipotle cups and bags following an intervention by Jonathan Safran Foer, who thought customers would enjoy something interesting to read. The best: Two-Minute Note to the Future, by George Saunders − “A ravishingly beautiful miniature speculative fiction short story. It is 388 perfect words long and pretty much makes me want to throw in the towel on this whole writing thing.”         

Thug: A life of Caravaggio in sixty-nine paragraphs
Stephen Akey | The Millions | 16 May 2014
“The assailants slipped back into the night, never to be known or apprehended. They had done their work. Nor was it any common street thug they had mutilated, perhaps partially blinded. The victim of this assault outside the Osteria del Cerriglio, where poets and artists mingled with courtesans, rentboys, and cut-throats, was the greatest painter of the age, one of the greatest of any age.”   

Stairway to heaven: The song remains pretty similar
Vernon Silver | Business Week | 15 May 2014
A lawsuit claims that Jimmy Page borrowed the opening chords of Stairway To Heaven from a song called Taurus, by Spirit, an American band that Led Zeppelin supported in their early days. Zeppelin has already settled four earlier claims of plagiarism by sharing writing credits and royalties on disputed songs. But Stairway is in a league of its own: it may well be the most valuable rock song of all time.         

Poems of a lifetime
Clive James | Times Literary Supplement | 14 May 2014
Great poets know when to stop. They don’t overload what they want to say with too much verbal artifice or borrowed erudition. “For a poet to be all sound is nearly as bad as for a painter to be all paint. I still find that a Swinburne poem affects me like a painting by John Bratby: there is so much impasto that the only tension lies in your wondering whether it will slide off the picture and fall on the floor.” 

If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.