Best Life

Perusing the contents page of the February Best Life, it struck me that the issue promised little more than trite men's-magazine mainstays. There was the celeb profile, complete with photo and immaculately manicured mustache; the perform-better-in-the-sack exegesis, with cheesecake starlets trying their hardest to look fetchingly disaffected; and, of course, the food and booze and relationship and fitness and fashion and career guidance, kindly proffered by experts who would, like, know. Maybe this title, touted by commentators I largely ignore as the Second Coming of magazine publishing, wasn't all that different after all.

Then I read it. Here's the thing: while Best Life might not break any new topical ground, it transcends just about every men's-publication cliché. Rather than typical test drives, it sticks fellas like James Cameron and Andruw Jones behind the wheel; they proceed to offer everyman quirk, as opposed to richer-than-you banalities. Similarly, instead of commencing the getting-in-shape story with the expected gosh-I-sure-ate-a-lot-of-latkes-this-Chanukah lead, Best Life offers a more compelling motivation for shedding a few pounds: the writer darn near passed out while attempting to flee kidnappers in Honduras.

The publication does most everything better than its category peers, which makes for an engaging read and a lousy Magazine Rack. Among the things I learned in its pages: how to ease the biannual task of cleaning the bathroom (I'm so buying the Black & Decker ScumBuster powerscrubber, it's not even funny), how much to tip any number of vacation helper elves (housekeepers, etc.), and how to build a tree house (as well as who to pay to complete the project after you fall and paralyze yourself).

Best Life's writers handle first-person accounts as ably as they do more involved features. In the former category, the February issue frees Jay Atkinson to rhapsodize about his early-morning hockey games and Jay McInerney to advise on sensitive daddy/daughter conversations (me, I envision teaching my daughters about sex using sock puppets and an air horn). In the latter category, the mag presents sharp, unsentimental looks at World War II hump pilots and General Electric's Global Research Center. None are overlong, nor have any of the topics been extensively discussed by other pubs.

Instead of music reviews, Best Life offers album picks from Liz Phair and a few candidates for the next indie-music mecca, complete with song suggestions. The book-review page, on the other hand, reprints three short passages from new tomes and appends them with a few sentences about each author. Again: not exactly revolutionary, but slightly unconventional in a smart way.

I also dig the sleek, heavily sidebar'd design. Though its use of color and multiple fonts owes more than a bit to corporate sibling Men's Health, Best Life offers a handful of idiosyncratic, imaginative touches. The mag reverts into a tabloid-like layout for the "Age Erasers" collection of fitness tips, and liberally litters factoids (including ones about my twin daily salves of hand sanitizer and morphine) throughout the issue's right-hand margins. The mag's designers even invest with personality those areas where they're allowed to be boring: the contributors' page presents scruffy sketches instead of airbrushed head shots, while the table of contents is split by a cascade of page numbers down its center.

I don't think I'm supposed to appreciate Best Life for another few years or so: I'm not yet a father and I'd rather quaff Thousand Island salad dressing than pricey cognac. That said, I found more material that interests me in the February issue than I have in recent editions of publications specifically targeting my demographic. So either I'm an ahead-of-my-class magazine savant (about as likely as Celebrity Nosepicking finding its way onto newsstands), or Best Life does an awful lot of things very, very well.

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