Books are added to the literary canon in a number of ways, and the method depends upon the canon being adjusted. Each university will have a range of books it feels are essential for students to read. Other canons are created by literary elites and critics or by publishing companies. For a book to be added to any such list, it needs to be proposed and accepted by the people tasked with compiling the list.
A literary canon is an authoritative list of books deemed to be of national or world importance. They can also be lists of books important to a specific institution. Such books go beyond being well-written to having a cultural impact. Becoming part of such a list imbues a book with status and respect, and it means the book will be studied in depth by students and will continue to be reprinted.
The choosing of what books constitute a new canon or add to an established one is subjective. The process is wholly dependent on one person's or a group's opinion. The fewer people involved in the decision, the more subjective it becomes. Such lists are usually chosen by an academic or literary elite, without taking into consideration popular opinion. As such lists are so varied and so subjective some argue that there are no literary canons at all.
On occasion, there have been attempts to produce a popular canon of literature. In 2004, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) produced a TV series called “The Big Read.” It followed on from an attempt to work out the greatest Britons by producing a list of the greatest books of all time. The show, however, imposed a limit on the number of books by any one individual.
The list eventually got whittled down to a top 100 and then a top 21. Some writers, such as Terry Pratchett, were too successful for their own good because they wrote so many popular books, the fans’ votes got split between them. The show was won, much to the chagrin of the BBC, by JRR Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.” The top 21 also included books by writers such as Philip Pullman, Douglas Adams, and JK Rowling.
Populist literary canons are less stable and enduring than those produced by universities and literary institutions. A book is ultimately added to a list because it is deemed by enough critics and academics to be of importance. Such lists are not set in stone and older classics often make way for newer ones.
Books that have a long publishing run and enter the thoughts of society as a whole such as “1984” and “Catch-22” are often found in most canons. They are also protected and reprinted by publishing houses.