Reading is often a pastime that is done solo. For most bookworms, it’s a quick escape from their varying realities. There are exceptions to this though—like a high school book club or a literary group that gathers for discussions in between university classes.
With technology progressing so much over the past couple of years, people can easily connect through various platforms. For budding bookworms, podcasts are one of the ways that they can learn more about books they’re interested in, or validate their opinions about certain titles. While podcasts have been around for a while, they’ve regained popularity in recent years—and Fiction Friends aims to go beyond dishing out book reviews.
Co-hosted by Jet Luga and Mariana Varela, Fiction Friends is a podcast that launched its first episode in May 2021. On top of reviewing books, the pair also provides explanations to help their audience understand more about their current reads.
Jet, 29, and Mariana, 25, were islands apart when they started Fiction Friends. Mariana hails from Dumaguete City, and Jet is based in Cebu City. The two became friends after Jet tapped Mariana for a brand campaign. While Jet runs a branding agency as well as a writing agency, he felt the need to redirect his creative energy into a different channel. Mariana, on the other hand, is an artist who owns an athleisure brand.
“I mostly spend my free time just reading books,” Jet shares in an email. “One random fact about me is that I’ve written more than 60 books as a ghostwriter for other authors.”
“I enjoy watching mystery, thriller, and horror movies as well as reading books of the same genres,” Mariana says.
When asked how they decided to partner up for a podcast, Jet responds, “A podcast seemed like the most feasible choice for me because I felt like I wasn’t ready to go on YouTube or anything like that just yet.”
“Of course, with starting a podcast, I knew that I didn’t want to talk about anything that I wasn’t confident about,” he continues. “That’s why I knew it was a logical fit for me to just talk about books.”
Jet envisioned a podcast format that was conversational and engaging, which is why he reached out to Mariana, who also has skills in hosting.
“We wanted to build a community with a shared passion or hobby,” Mariana says. Podcasts, according to her, are convenient and easy to access. “[It’s] multi-task friendly, you can listen to it while you’re driving or cooking.”
Just like a friend you’d know in real life, Fiction Friends is meant to make listeners realize that they have someone to talk to or gush with after finishing a novel.
On Their First Titles and Podcast Decisions
Both Jet and Mariana developed an interest in books when they were children. Jet’s love for fiction began when he began reading the Harry Potter series as early as 8 years old.
“It was then that I discovered that books had the power to be just as entertaining and as meaningful as TV shows or movies. It was a love affair with literature ever since,” Jet says.
Mariana has been reading books ever since she learned how to read, which is a feat in itself. “They’ve always been a source of entertainment,” Mariana says. She admits that reading and writing fiction is a pleasing journey that she may not be able to live without.
Fiction Friends tries to be inclusive when it comes to selecting titles to tackle for the next podcast. The program has a rotation of different genres to pick from. For the most part, Jet and Mariana try to read popular books and give their thoughts on them. Occasionally though, the pair tackles novelty pieces just for the fun of it. There’s also the chance of them including their favorite reads.
“We feel like this system of selecting books offers us a healthy mix that caters to different tastes and audiences,” Jet says.
“We also find popular titles on Bookstagram or Booktok to see if they’re worth the hype,” Mariana shares. For those who aren’t well-initiated in modern terms, ‘Bookstagram’ is a combination of the words ‘book’ and the social media platform ‘Instagram,’ while ‘Booktok’ combines ‘book’ and the highly-popular app ‘Tiktok’—which is more often than not known for its interesting dance routines.
On Having Different Opinions and Spoilers
While they are called Fiction Friends, the duo admits that they can’t always have the same views on a particular book. Jet shares that it tends to happen for the books they review and he feels that this adds depth and dimension to their episodes.
“I feel like that makes for a more holistic and interesting learning experience,” Jet says.
“We’re two completely different individuals,” Mariana adds. “You can expect a handful of opinions from two different lenses.”
When it comes to spoilers, Fiction Friends considers that their audience may and may not have read the book. The show is formatted to be spoiler-free for the first part, designed for the audience who are interested in a particular title but have no familiarity with it. As the show goes on though, Jet and Mariana dive into the book’s narrative and discuss it in-depth.
“We do give our listeners a heads-up once we reach spoiler territory,” Mariana shares. “We don’t want to destroy our listeners’ reading experience.”
Fiction Friends releases new episodes every Thursday and Sunday on Spotify. Follow Jet and Mariana’s current reads and join their community at @fictionfriends.ph on Instagram.