Tracking Down the Vicar: My Pre-Internet Search for Every Roald Dahl Book
Roald Dahl is the reason I’m a school librarian. As a kid, his books influenced my becoming a reader more than anything else. Between Jughead Double Digests, Far Side anthologies, and Groo comics, they were the only “real” books I read for a decent stretch of my life. After taking in a few of Dahl’s classics – The BFG, James and the Giant Peach, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I was on a mission to read them all. My visits to the bookstore and library became visits to the D section. I would head straight for the Dahl titles in hopes of finding anything I hadn’t read.
But being an amateur completist in the days before the internet was pretty difficult. I wanted to read every book, but the thought of asking an adult for help in my search seemed out of the question. I had to hunt them down myself.
Before Wikipedia there was this:
The front of the book. These lists of the author’s other titles were my lifelines. Each time I would find a new Dahl title, I’d flip to this page, run down the list and do a mental check.
The next few books were no sweat – Matilda, The Witches, Boy – but it wasn’t long before things got more difficult. Dirty Beasts was tough to find. As was The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me. But I was still making progress.
The list got shorter and shorter until there was only one left: The Vicar of Nibbleswicke.
Published in 1991, shortly after Dahl’s passing, the book was written to benefit the Dyslexia Institute of London and is one of the author’s lesser-known works.
And I couldn’t find it. Anywhere. Each unsuccessful attempt added to the disappointment. I felt the nagging discomfort of a mission stalled.
It’s a cliché to say I’d given up hope, but in the interest of being honest, that was the situation. Some time later I was visiting family in Kalamazoo, Michigan and my parents dropped me off at the bookstore off Westnedge Avenue in Portage. I made my typical first stop to the D section. And…check. Double-check. Well, there it was. The Vicar. Royal blue and much slimmer than expected.
I didn’t have a cent on me. But I did have time. I sat down right there and read it from cover to cover. Sorry keepers of Roald Dahl’s estate – I had to. I don’t think I stopped smiling the whole time. Some of the best celebrations happen in silence and all alone.
Later that year I found out from a clerk at my public library that Dahl had passed away. It’s a clear memory, the moment I received that news. The mission was over. After all that time and effort, I realized I never actually wanted to complete the list.
Now that I’m a school librarian, I hope I can move kids to track down every book from authors they love. But they’ll be able to Google it. Lucky dogs.