A Novel Idea
It’s true that books can take you anywhere— just ask Susan McBeth,a bookstore marketing director turned literary tour guide
As the director of marketing and events for Warwick’s in La Jolla from 2006 until this past February, Susan McBeth knew that a good book could transport readers to another world. She wanted to take this idea a step further, though, so McBeth left her job to begin Adventures By the Book, a company that offers literary tours and events.
The seed was planted when McBeth met Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun. McBeth told Mayes how much she appreciated her books, especially since she’d never been to Tuscany herself. “She invited me to come and visit,” McBeth recalls. That got her thinking about how much fun a trip like that would be—not just for her, but for other readers.
“I was bursting at the seams to escape from the confines of a retail environment and create experiential events that would connect readers and authors in a more intimate way than the traditional lecture format,” says McBeth.
This past summer, McBeth led a group of 10 on a weeklong journey to Tuscany where they attended Festival del Sole in Cortona. This annual art and music festival was co-founded by Mayes who had lunch with McBeth and her group. The literary adventurers then toured author Ferenc Máté’s vineyard, where his son, Buster, hosted a wine tasting. They got an insider’s tour of Tuscany from author Dario Castagno, and dined with radio personality and author Annalisa Coppolaro-Nowell. Travelers also got to develop their culinary skills with Marlane Miriello, author and founder of Il Campo Cucina cooking school.
While dozens of travel companies offer Shakespeare and Mark Twain tours, McBeth incorporates writers who are still living. “It’s fun to have an opportunity to interact one-on-one with an author whose book you have read. Customers can ask questions and not have to interpret [the writing].” And the concept works.
“I can honestly say this is the happiest I have ever been in my career,” says McBeth. “Organizing events at a bookstore is where my compulsive organizational skills met my passion for literature. The only thing that was missing was my passion for travel. Now I’m able to combine all three into a fulfilling, rewarding, and fun endeavor.”
Next June, McBeth will offer the “Magical Mystery Literary History Tour,” a 10-day European sleuthing adventure to the Czech Republic, Poland, and Germany. Leading the group will be Kathi Diamant, author of Kafka’s Last Love, and director of the Kafka Project at San Diego State University.
McBeth is already at work planning a “Springtime in Paris” trip for 2013.
Not all of McBeth’s Adventures By the Book are overseas, though. She has organized literary events at an organic apple orchard in Julian, an equestrian center in Huntington Beach, and the Mission Inn in Riverside.
On her home turf of San Diego, McBeth recently created a literary event for One Book, One San Diego winner Zohreh Ghahremani, who wrote Sky of Red Poppies, a fictional work based on her experiences growing up under the Shah of Iran’s regime in the 1960s. “We hosted this luncheon at an authentic Persian restaurant that Zohreh picked out so we were surrounded by all things Persian—from food to staff—for a talk about this Persian book,” says McBeth. “It is such a joy to see both readers and authors connect in this way. That’s why I love what I do.