Filmmaker Michael Moore's new book, "Here Comes Trouble," is a shaggy and overfilled but also funny account of the early years of a nonconformist. Moore will discuss the memoir Monday, Sept. 19, 2011, at Seattle's Neptune Theatre.

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‘Here Comes Trouble’

by Michael Moore

Grand Central Publishing, 427 pp., $35

BOOK REVIEW |

Christopher Hitchens published a slim, engaging how-to book, “Letters to a Young Contrarian,” in 2001.

Comes now Michael Moore — the Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker, best-selling writer, right-wing boogeyman, blue-collar provocateur, wearer of baseball caps, necessary irritant — with a plump, slatternly book that could probably appear under that same title.

“Here Comes Trouble” is almost but not quite a memoir. It’s an anecdotal, hopscotching account of Moore’s early life, from his childhood in Flint, Mich., where his father was a sparkplug assembly-line worker, up to age 35, when he released his first documentary film, “Roger & Me” (1989). That biting movie was about Flint in the wake of plant closings at General Motors, and its success put its maker on the national radar.

Like all of his books, this one is shaggy and overfilled. Moore’s coming of age as a working-class malcontent is, however, something to behold. It’s the story of a big lunk who learns to yoke his big mouth to a sense of purpose. It persuades you to take Moore seriously, and it belongs on a shelf with memoirs by, and books about, nonconformists such as Mother Jones, Abbie Hoffman, Phil Ochs, Rachel Carson and even Thomas Paine.

Moore was born in Flint in 1954. He had friends, parents who loved him and a pretty happy childhood. Yet in “Here Comes Trouble” his complaints about life under modern capitalism’s thumb begin at birth. On a trip to the South as a boy he spied a toilet labeled “colored,” and of course he used that one. When asked by the Elks Club to give a speech about Abraham Lincoln, he lit into the organization for its racism.

Moore wanted to be a Roman Catholic priest. He entered St. Paul’s Seminary in Saginaw in 1968. “I liked seeing priests marching with Rev. King and getting arrested,” he says. He was kicked out for asking too many questions.

In high school the longhaired Moore ran for the conservative local school board and won, becoming the youngest elected official in the United States. He began to attend anti-war rallies. After a girl he knew nearly died during a botched illegal abortion, he founded a hotline and crisis center.

Not long after high school — Moore dropped out of the University of Michigan at Flint after one year — he founded a muckraking biweekly newspaper, The Flint Voice (later called The Michigan Voice).

“Here Comes Trouble” is talky and vaguely ill composed, but Moore is in touch with the American demotic, and the book is filled with corny interjections (“Jeez-oh-pete”), reveries about Olivia Hussey’s breasts in Franco Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet” and flatulence jokes. This might all be well nigh insufferable were it not for two things. One, the book is often quite funny and self-effacing. Two, Moore frequently turns his gaze outward. “Here Comes Trouble” picks up special gravity when he tells other people’s stories: the gay kid down the block who later threw himself in the Hudson River; a favorite teacher whose husband went missing in Vietnam.

The part to skip is the opening 32 pages; these are red meat tossed to Moore’s true believers. These opening pages are about recent culture wars — about Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly and how Moore became, in his view, “the most hated man in America.”