Saint Mary’s professor designs ‘Good Books’ course before retirement, inspires students
Genevieve Coleman | Friday, November 19, 2021
When English professor Sister Eva Hooker had the chance to create a new course during her last year at Saint Mary’s, she told department chair Ann Marie Short she wanted to focus on good books.
“I’ve always wanted to do a course like this, but never really had a chance because I was doing the poetry writing course and then, of course, we all do W [writing proficiency] courses,“ Hooker said. “And so when this became my last year, Ann Marie [Short] who’s our chair said, ‘What would be your dream course?’ And I said, ‘Good books — not great books because I don’t want to get tangled in that debate — but good books.’ And so she said, ‘Well, go for it and see what happens.’“
While Hooker had to make difficult decisions about what constitutes a good book, she eventually included novels “Gilead,” “The Green Road,” “The Goldfinch,” “To The End of the Land” and “Let the Great World Spin,” the memoir “What You Have Heard is True” and the poetry collection “Trophic Cascade” in her course.
Speaking especially about “Trophic Cascade,” Hooker noted the collection’s importance in giving students a narrative about motherhood.
“This book is so wonderful because … she’s very much an eco poet, but this book is about becoming a mother,” she said. “When we had our alum reunion some years ago, one of the things that the women said is no one ever really talked about or studied, or made a focus on becoming a mother, and so ever since I’ve tried to put in a book that considers this … But it’s also a book that takes into consideration what it’s like to bring a child of color into the world, so it brings up questions of race and privilege and all that good stuff.”
Hooker said she made changes to the course mid-semester and added the novel “Let the Great World Spin.”
“I changed my mind in midcourse because I thought, oh, gosh, all these books are so dark that we have read so far and I thought, you know, here we are with COVID,” she said. “Many students in the class are getting sick, not with COVID, but with flu and they kept falling in and falling out. They were really having a hard time and so I thought this is a book that is fabulous, but it has a lighter edge to it.”
Hooker emphasized that because the books are contemporary, students can see the range of texts written during their lifetimes.
“All these books are very now books,” she said. “The oldest one was 1996, but every other one is written 2010 to now. And so that gives them some sense of the literary geography of the present time — from their time which I think is wonderful to have.”
Junior English literature major Megan Palmer is a student in Hooker’s class and expressed her gratitude for the way Hooker has taught her to see literature.
“The class is amazing,” she said. “We read good books, obviously given the title. We just read a lot and then we come and discuss it, so it’s a discussion-based class. The best way I can describe it is that she helps me see these books as if they’re movies, like on a screen. But she also just picks amazing books.”
Palmer also elaborated on Hooker’s unique perspective as an instructor.
“The way we talk about them, she sees things that I wouldn’t have seen to begin with and then … she picks apart the things that the author has done,” Palmer said. “But she also makes us explain why it was a good book and you can’t just say that because I liked it. You have to pick apart what makes a good book, why was it good or why we don’t like this book because some of us have not liked some of the books that we’ve read.”
A book from the semester that has stuck with Palmer is “Let the Great World Spin.”
“The book we just finished, ‘Let the Great World Spin,’ by Colum McCann — that’s one of the best books I’ve ever read in my life,” Palmer said. “It’s so amazing. I don’t know how to describe it and not give things away, but it’s one of those stories where there’s so many working parts that in the end, they all fit together.”
Palmer said Sister Eva has been a positive force on her personally and academically.
“I wish Sister Eva wasn’t retiring because you should definitely take a class with her,” she said. “She’s so funny. She’s so cute. She’s just one of the best professors because she doesn’t let you just get away with “Oh well I thought this.’ She makes you point it out in the text, she makes you explain why and then you’re like I have to think about why I liked that.”