Before stumbling on the publication's April/May issue, I'd never heard of Bust. What attracted me was a cover featuring one of the funniest and most interesting women on the planet, Amy Sedaris. Forking over a few bucks, I figured the worst-case scenario would be a few giggles amid the usual simplistic-advice and mainstream-fashion murk.

As it turns out, Bust has a brain and a pulse, if not the ample bosom promised by its title. Written largely by women for women, the publication has apparently been tagged with a "feminist" label, which is both unfair and inaccurate. I'd say it has no agenda whatsoever, outside of celebrating the independence and intellect of gals in their 20s and 30s and the cultural/style icons who appeal to them.

What makes Bust stand up... er, out... is its subtle, snarky wit. One letter is punctuated with a caption of "going back and fjorth about Bjork," while an item about sewing is headlined "Hand Jobs." A one-pager on wall decorations finds itself under the header of "Buy or D.I.Y"; a compilation of celeb quotes is labeled as "She-bonics." A mag obviously can't subsist on clever nuggets alone, but they sure make navigating its pages a lot more fun.

Too, Bust skews comparatively subversive in its content choices. You get the impression that the editors would sooner hit spring break in Daytona than mention either Ashley or Jessica Simpson - though Lisa Simpson, ever the yellow-tinted iconoclast, would be right at home on its pages. Thus instead of Kate Hudson flogging her latest movie/child/blouse/dimple, we get a Q&A with the author of the "Sweet Valley High" books and a look at artist Loretta Lux's eerie portraits of young girls.

Attempting to find under-the-radar topics can be a hit-or-miss proposition, though. While a series of bios on women professional baseball players steers mercifully clear of "A League of Their Own" saccharine, they come across as way too straight-faced in an issue that also serves up a Joan Collins trivia quiz and a brief history of the training bra.

Bust gets points for maintaining a distinctive voice throughout most of the April/May issue, which is why the mag's columnists disappoint somewhat. Maybe I caught "Pop Tart" writer Wendy McClure on an off month, but she takes around 1,000 words to say that "Gilmore Girls" is about internal monologues, or something. The "One-Handed Read" (get it?) sex story, on the other hand, features mots juste like "rammed" and "thickness," and would thus better be relegated to the pages of Penthouse.

The only column that feels compatible with the mag's quirky headlines and content is Ayun Halliday's "Mother Superior." Consider this mini-blurb about "Romeo and Juliet," couched in a story about the author's 6-year-old daughter and her comfort with being naked: "The titular characters die, but even the biggest stickler for facts can't deny that Shakespeare got a lot of mileage out of having them do so before their innocence and exuberance are shot to shit by prolonged exposure to grown-up concerns." Wit and depth - color me charmed.

So yeah, I dig Bust, and am a bit embarrassed that even as a supposed magazine pundit (insert sound of screeching tires here), it took me 12 years to find the thing. It's not an environment for everybody - L'Oréal and Playtex, you've been forewarned - but it deserves a considerably broader audience than it currently enjoys.

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