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Year of the Bloat: From the Fifty Shades spankathon to the Quadruple Bypass burger

It was somewhere during the seventh hour of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey that I began to fear that emergency service would be needed to free me with the jaws of life. I'd melded into my chair to become some kind of movie-theatre centaur, half-woman and half-seat.

It was at the point in Peter Jackson's epic when Bimulon, son of Shmimulon, stuck an axe into the head of Calgon the Mighty, or perhaps it was when the dwarfs began singing. Again. I don't know. I'd lost the will to live after watching a dozen tiny, wizened members of ZZ Top run through Middle Earth in pursuit of a dragon (spoiler alert!) you don't even see until the final few frames.

A slim and beloved book is being transformed into three bloated films, the first of which is nearly three hours long: Greed beats speed. As my esteemed colleague Liam Lacey put it, you could read that book quicker than watching the movie.

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As I unwedged my numb bottom from the seat and thanked the paramedics for their efforts, it occurred to me that we're leaving a year of bloat, when things became so large, so tall, so long, so excessive, that we lost sight of their edges. Sometimes, as with the escalating price of the federal government's F-35 fighter jets, the bloat became so ridiculous that even all the necromancers in Ottawa casting deception spells could no longer hypnotize the eyes of the people. I believe the government may now be pricing Romulan cloaking devices to fulfill our defence commitments.

The most influential book of the year – actually, a trilogy of books – is the size of a toaster. Fifty Shades of Grey is a spankathon about falling in love with a man whose sociopathic tendencies are mitigated by the fact that he's "so freaking hot." At 1,664 pages, the Vintage edition of the trilogy is about 400 pages longer than the Vintage edition of War and Peace. But really, who's going to choose impenetrable Russian names and wearying military campaigns over women who dance with their inner goddess and men whose genitals resemble popsicles?

Serious readers as well as onanists (I'm sure there's a healthy crossover) were also looking for substance. My doctor spent 42 hours listening to Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals on her iPod. That book became the basis of Steven Spielberg's 150-minute film Lincoln. My husband nearly bit my head off when I interrupted him partway through the 736-page Passage of Power, Robert Caro's fourth instalment of his Lyndon Johnson biography. That's right, the fourth volume, and he's not even done. Huffily, I turned back to A Casual Vacancy, J.K. Rowling's 512-page novel about the distemper of the times. "A big novel," her publisher offers, "about a small town." I smell an apology there.

This was the year of the longest and most expensive U.S. presidential campaign, the largest pair of overalls worn by Justin Bieber to meet a head of government, and Dubai's announcement that it will build the world's most spacious mall, to include 100 hotels and a theme park. (I think it's now official: Dubai has more luxury handbags than grains of sand.)

Not to be outdone, China said it would build the world's tallest skyscraper. The developers of the 220-storey Sky City tower in the city of Changsha are promising to build it in three months. I don't know – 90 days seems about the right amount of time to make a newt, but the world's tallest building?

The Sky Tower is expected to be 10 metres taller than the current record holder, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Shortly after the Chinese announcement, two other developers said they'd build even taller skyscrapers, one in Saudi Arabia and one in Azerbaijan. This suggests that the popular locker-room game "mine's bigger than yours" has entered an international phase and is now played with cranes.

As long as none of the buildings meet the sad fate of London's Shard, the tallest building in Western Europe, which opened with praise and a laser show in July but has been a bit of a Billy no-mates ever since. I attended the opening of the 95-storey behemoth, which had no tenants apart from a hotel at that point. According to a recent BBC report, the Shard is still unoccupied, and now sits like a giant, empty, upended pop bottle on the London skyline.

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I quite like excess. Elizabeth Taylor would be the quartermaster in my ideal world. So when I heard that 2012 had also given birth to the world's largest hamburger, I was ready to check it out. The Quadruple Bypass burger contains nearly 10,000 calories and weighs more than three pounds – and that's not even including the sherpas who bring it to your table. I was all set to check out the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas until I heard that two people had fulfilled the promise of the restaurant's name and needed to be carted out on gurneys. Maybe next year. They're sure to introduce a bigger version. That's just the way the world goes.

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About the Author
Columnist and Feature Writer

Elizabeth Renzetti has worked at The Globe and Mail as a columnist, reporter, and editor of the Books and Review sections. From 2003 to 2012, she was a member of the Globe's London-based European bureau. Her Saturday column is published on page A2 of the news section, and her features appear regularly in Focus. More


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