Updike's books, and his reputation have been a part of the American cultural scene since before Father A. was born. They formed a row of spine-broken paperbacks on the parental bookshelf, and our first inspiring English teacher had a secret crush on him. (One of our best history teachers had a similar crush on Joan Baez. it was another era, friends.)
That said, we have never really enjoyed reading Updike, and have therefore read very few of his 50 or so books. As the Village Voice says, This was a writer with an ambivalent reputation among people of a certain age (and an impossibly glowing one with people of another).
Still, we have our favorites. The Centaur, about a bright boy raised in the country, struck us hard in the seventh grade, not least because the narrator was afflicted (as Updike was, and as Father A. is also) with eczema. It's a minor affliction, to be sure -- and yet we had never seen anybody acknowledge its existence in print, much less experiment with its metaphorical possibilities.
Of more general interest, Updike was among the fairly small class of important living writers to speak comfortably and publicly about their Christian faith. (Offhand, none of the others seems nearly as significant -- Gail Godwin? Madeleine L'Engle? No, not even Garrison Keillor. Maybe Mary Gordon, someday. The closest is probably the poet Denise Levertov, who has written about how difficult it was for her to acknowledge her faith as she built a career in the world of "cultured despisers"). The Beauty of the Lilies has been on our to-do list since it was published, and by gum we will do it.
A WaPo blog post, linked above, quotes a nice remark that Updike made, speaking at St. Bart's a couple of years ago:
When I haven't been to church in a couple of Sundays I begin to hunger for it and need to be there. It's not just the words, the sacraments. It's the company of other people, who show up and pledge themselves to an invisible entity.
Good thought. We wish that more novelists -- not to mention plumbers, housewives, and magazine editors -- felt the same way.