Best Life

Can Rodale, a magazine publisher best known as the kingdom of crunchy, fitness-oriented titles like Prevention and Men's Health, publish a men's magazine as literate and stylish as Esquire or GQ? That's what Best Life seems to be shooting for -- and hitting the mark more often than not.

Still, there are some oddities. Take the piece where a doctor's attempts to answer questions about penis health are enlivened by a fantasy about men hypnotized in a locker room. It's service journalism absurdly tarted up, in a way I've never seen in a women's mag. Picture an article on yeast infections written in semi-Shakespearean couplets ("When to thy private parts thy most annoying itch cometh/One becomes entirely bumeth...")

The penis piece is co-written by novelist Mark Leyner. He is joined in the August issue by such well-known fiction writers as Doug Coupland, who pens the essay "40 on the Outside, 30 on the Insider"; and "Legends of the Falls" author Jim Harrison, whose contribution is, yes, a short story. What other men's magazine still has fiction? Esquire? Playboy? (Both, apparently, I deduce from some quick Googling.)

I was initially put off by the slightly sexist tone of the story's protagonist, an older man reawakening to lust -- the same way I'm horrified when one of the "Mad Men" dismissively calls a secretary "sweetheart." But ultimately I'm a sucker for good writing. So, as with "Mad Man," I came around to appreciating Harrison, who is also lauded elsewhere in the mag by another novelist, Rick Bass, discussing "The Book That Changed My Life."

Set among all these literary riches -- which include having playwright David Mamet as "writer-at-large"-- are more fitness features that recall BL's brother pub Men's Health. In fact, unlike the investigative pieces in GQ and Esquire, the sharpest edge of BL's journalistic sword reverts back to Rodale's health magazine roots, such as a piece on cell phones and cancer. I give BL points for being the first major national lifestyle mag I've seen to address this newly opened can of worms, and for providing a handy chart of which phones have the most and least radiation.

My favorite article in the issue -- a paen to the benefits of doing almost everything slowly, from sex to breathing -- blends snappy-reaching-to-literary-quality writing with compelling points. "The Secret of Slow" is illustrated with a gorgeous shot of a turtle atop a naked woman's buttocks. That artsy girlie mag aesthetic reappears throughout the pub, as in the legs-centric photos of women illustrating the Harrison short story.

T&A is a venerable men's mag tradition, from Hefner onward, and BL's classy art direction blunts the edge of the sexism a bit. Still, the blatant girlie-mag vibe hurts any crossover appeal for women. While Rodale may not much care, hey, I'd like to live my "Best Life," too.


Published by: Rodale Inc.
Frequency: 10 issues a year
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