The SF Chron has a remarkably wrong-headed post up offering "good novels for hard times." But it's nothing of the sort; upward of 80 percent of the list could be characterized as "good novels about hard times," which is an entirely different thing. Here's Russell Banks' Continental Drift, for example: clueless New Hampshire oil burner repairman meets his doom among Haitian immigrants in Florida. Or Charles Backer, Shadow Play--by the Chron's own account, "the city manager of a depressed town in Michigan sees a tragedy unfold when the chemical plant he lured to town turns out to be an environmental disaster." Or Ernest Hebert, The Dogs of March--again the Chron, "it's the American dream gone belly-up."
Ooh, we'll be hummin' the tunes of this stuff all the way home from the theatre. Got the pattern? But, yo, Chron hello (slap, slap)! People don't want to read about hard times in hard times. Remember the movie business: in the Great Depression, they got rich off screwball comedy and soft romance! This is surely a great time to recharge the batteries with a good book. But make it silly, wacky, or at least slurpy, maybe with a dog. We're spikin' this one, come back next week with a better try.
Update: A questioner asks--so what would I read? Fair question. to my great good fortune, I'm not quite on the edge at the moment: I am not unemployed, and my pension looks solvent (at least for now, heh heh). Were I on the edge, I'm tempted to say I'd start with stuff I have read (and loved) before. Which is to say, for example, Proust. But only because Proust is something I know at least moderately well--I can go back and dip in to find passages that will take me a million miles away in a hurry (come to think of it, Proust is still on my Ipod). Probably not a good occasion on which to tackle Proust for the first time. And I guess that excludes Finnegans Wake--which I never have read, but probably couldn't/shouldn/t tackle under great strain.
Maybe that's too hifalutin. If so, how about Jane Austen? Sunny and warm-hearted and happy-ending--but astringent and funny and just tricky enough you have to keep your eyes peeled for the zingers that she lobs past you. Or the Memoirs of the Duc de Saint Simon, the last word in escape literature. Or Herodotus, the feyest and funniest of all the ancients. Why, it's almost enough to make a man...no, strike that, it is not enough to make a man want to lose his job. But it could be fun anyway.