Back in my grad school days, two guys in my teaching-assistants clique used to drive me crazy with their "good and great" distinctions. "It was a good movie, but not a great one," they would pronounce. Or, "It's not a great novel, but it's pretty good."
Yes, we were all pretentious literary snobs, but that particular bit of parsing always annoyed me. I still prefer to take whatever joy/meaning/satisfaction I get from a piece of writing or art without concern over its level of greatness. Some of the best pleasures are the guilty ones of liking the lowbrow.
These opinions came back to me recently when I met the current acting governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands. We were a diverse group gathered at Clifford Gardiner's Barracuda Beach Bar on North Caicos: Aggie, JD, Tom and I were finishing burgers and talking with Clifford when Martin Stanley and his aide joined us after their dinner.
The talk turned to the TCI and the job facing Stanley, who will turn over the governorship to a more permanent official from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office in October. He explained that he'd been taken out of retirement for this fill-in position, then made the interesting comment that the temporariness of the job gave him more freedom than his replacement will have. Appointed governors of the British territories, he explained, are usually men in the midst of their careers, trying to make names for themselves. They thus spend as much time or more in personal politics than they do governing. Since Stanley is past that "go for greatness" stage, he's in a better position to do some good for the islands.
That said, he proceeded to pick our brains about what we thought about the state of the islands. My brain, however, lingered on the good and the great.
Again: What's so great about being great? A recent review of a memoir about Joseph Heller commented that despite Catch-22, Heller never achieved the greatness of a Philip Roth or John Updike. To which I say, "So what? There's still Catch-22, delightful, defiant and devious right up to the edge of being great."
My head is full of novel, essays, reviews and commentaries I've found memorable, even life-changing, even though none of them will be nominated for a major literary prize. I believe that writing anything that affects someone the way I've been affected is a worthy accomplishment.
I turn this inward, too, as my novel nears publication. My wish for Fish-Eye Lens is not for it to win awards or be hailed as something great. I want the book to simply find its audience: to make people laugh a bit, touch them, make them nod or say "Yes!", elicit a satisfied sigh at the end.
Good would be good.