It is hard to believe, in 2010, that classic works of literature like Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl" were ever banned, or even challenged.
But they were. Another classic still taught in most high schools, J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye," remained among the top 10 of the most challenged books of 2009, according to the American Library Association.
That is more than reason enough to observe Banned Books Week 2010 — both to celebrate the freedom to read and to promote free speech. The Derry Public Library and others around the region are participating in the 29th annual event by focusing on that freedom. The local library even has a display that includes a photo of Harper Lee, gagged with a strip of tape across her mouth.
This is not to say that every book ought to be read by anybody, of any age. There is nothing censorious about keeping some books out of the hands of young children, just as it is appropriate to shield them from some images, or to forbid them to drive a car or to drink alcohol until they reach a certain age.
Parents, teachers and other adults should work to help children read good books that are age appropriate.
But, as has been shown throughout history, and is still being shown today, banning books doesn't work. In just about every case, it simply draws more attention to them, making a book that ought to be judged on its merits more desirable simply because somebody is trying to keep it out of reach.
And as is the case with these books that have become American classics, it is foolish to judge a book based on cultural or other norms of an era. The lesson of a book like "Mockingbird" is that nobody knows how a book will be viewed a few generations hence.
But, the most important thing is that Banned Books Week is really an observance of freedom — in spite of efforts to censor some literature, we remain free to read what we wish.
That is a freedom to guard, but it is also worth a celebration.