The Fate of the Critic in the Age of Clickbait


Do Twitter and Facebook spell the end of the critic?

Criticism of any kind is increasingly unwelcome at the digital-age paper. Consider a controversy that flared up in Canada last year. Arthur Kaptainis, who had long been the critic of the Montreal Gazette and more recently had been writing freelance for the National Post, reviewed a Canadian Opera Company production of Rossini’s “Maometto II.” The Canadian Opera asked for a couple of corrections, whereupon the Post took the bizarre step of removing the review from its Web site. Amid the resulting hubbub, a Post arts editor was quoted in an e-mail: “I really hate running reviews for performing arts. They simply get no attention online, and almost always end up as our poorest performing pieces of digital content.” The same mantra is heard at culture sections across America. Reviews don’t catch eyeballs. They don’t “move the needle.”

The logic seems irrefutable. Why publish articles that almost nobody wants? On closer examination, some shaky assumptions underlie these hard-nosed generalizations. First, digital data, in the form of counting clicks and hits, give an incomplete picture of reading habits. Those who subscribe to the print edition are discounted—and they tend to be older people, who are also more likely to follow the performing arts. A colleague wrote to me, “The four thousand people reading your theatre critics might be extremely loyal subscribers who press the paper on others. People in power often speak of ‘engagement’ and ‘valued readers,’ yet they still remain in thrall of the big click numbers—because of advertising, mostly.”

The New Yorker

Image: Painting by Brianna Keeper

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Love Story


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Found a needull on the love story of another great writer – J.R.R. Tolkein. While we remember Tolkein’s books for the magical world he creates there, there are some slivers of romance in his writings too.

As Christopher Tolkien writes in his preface, these two lovers were very close to his father’s heart. He wrote their tale after returning from World War I, in 1917. Beren falls in love with the beautiful Lúthien after seeing her dance in a glade filled with hemlocks, just as Tolkien’s wife Edith had danced for him. “In a letter to me on the subject of my mother,” Christopher Tolkien writes, “written in the year after her death, which was also the year before his own, he wrote of his overwhelming sense of bereavement, and of his wish to have Lúthien inscribed beneath her name on the grave.” Tolkien and Edith now rest under gravestones with the names of each lover engraved beneath their own, side by side.

The complete article

Josephine Livingstone — New Republic

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The Love Story Behind Erich Segal’s ‘Love Story’


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Today’s needull looks at the real love story that inspired Erich Segal’s very popular “Love Story’.

In 1969, Janet’s entire young family was sound asleep when the phone rang at 3 a.m. It was Erich Segal. “He was soused,” Janet recalled. “He told me that he’d just written his final love letter to me and that it was over a hundred pages long.” That last, very long letter was Love Story. A shortish novel, it became the best-selling book of 1970 and made Erich an instant millionaire. When the film exploded the following year, Erich invited Janet to accompany him to the Plaza Hotel in New York City, where she dined with him and the film’s stars, Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw, as well as the producer, Robert Evans. Janet recalled: “Gideon said I could go—however, he stipulated that I couldn’t be identified to the press as ‘Jenny’.” She attended the fête as the “mystery woman.”

The complete article

Paula Young Lee — Tablet

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Bob Dylan – Nobel Lecture


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Today’s needull is the acceptance speech of Bob Dylan for his Nobel Prize in Literature. Bob Dylan talks about Moby Dick and All Quiet on the Western Front in detail. He talks about what he saw in these novels and how they influenced him. Reading this speech, I want to give yet another shot at reading Moby Dick.

That’s what songs are too. Our songs are alive in the land of the living. But songs are unlike literature. They’re meant to be sung, not read. The words in Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be acted on the stage. Just as lyrics in songs are meant to be sung, not read on a page. And I hope some of you get the chance to listen to these lyrics the way they were intended to be heard: in concert or on record or however people are listening to songs these days. I return once again to Homer, who says, “Sing in me, oh Muse, and through me tell the story.”

The complete speech

Bob Dylan

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The cult of The Handmaid’s Tale


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A new series on Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale has started airing. As per Wiki – “Set in a near-future New England, in a totalitarian theocracy that has overthrown the United States government, the novel explores themes of women in subjugation and the various means by which they gain individualism and independence.”

It is the feminist bible that transcends gender. It was actually a young man who first turned me onto the novel – the tattered copy I still own was a gift from my teenage boyfriend (I forgave him so much because of his love for the book). I didn’t so much read through the night as travel through time and space, and I closed it awestruck and as furious as if it had been a news report. I am impatiently waiting for my daughters – currently aged eight and four – to reach an age where I can share it with them.

The complete article

Erin Kelly – The Telegraph

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The therapy of reading


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Reading can be therapeutic. Needull has always believed in finding good reads and sharing them with you. So, now you have one more reason to visit needull.

Sometimes it is not the content of the stories themselves but just knowing you have control by choosing to read or listen that provides the calming effect. All stories offer a safe, contained world with a beginning, middle and end. We have the power of when to start or stop and choose how long we stay in this story’s world.

Time spent listening to authors talk about their work and their own understanding of the power of literature also allows us, as readers, to reflect on stories that have shaped us.

The complete article

Germaine Leece — The Guardian

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Recommended by Abhishek

Curating a New Literary Canon


Who would you put in a museum of the best American writers? Hemingway? Kerouac? Bukowski? Note those are all white guys. The author visits a new museum devoted to writers to ponder the question of “who (and what) deserves to be in America’s first museum dedicated to writers?”

Walking through Chicago’s new American Writers Museum a week before it opened to the public, I felt like a cross between that eleven-year-old (wide-eyed, thirstily trying to absorb the canon, inspired by history) and that twenty-one-year-old (tallying up gender and race and queerness on the 100-author “American Voices” wall of fame and doing some quick math).

The museum’s creators faced an impossible task, the same one undertaken perennially by anthologists and English professors: How can we represent four hundred years of American literary history in a way that doesn’t reinforce the unfortunate hierarchies of those four hundred years?

Electric Literature

Image: Painting by Brianna Keeper