"Flock Together" is lively, passionate, melancholy, joyful and quirky, and it's difficult to pin down what manner of book it is — natural history? Memoir? Poetic lament? It's all and none of those, but always an endearing and highly readable book.

B.J. Hollars, an assistant professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, is a newbie birder fascinated with species that are no more, as well as with the long-dead birders who saw them alive, and what those birds and humans can teach us about our own times and selves.

Hollars, an amiable sort who calls himself "a twitchy, focus-fractured member of the 21st century," plunges into dusty old books and museums, remote woods and his own backyard, in Wisconsin and elsewhere, stopping occasionally at places such as the Nelson Cheese Factory in Nelson, Wis., to ponder his findings.

This book is an ode to birds and nature, as well as to the eclectic and individual private fascinations — such as birding — that make our lives unique and worthwhile.

"It's hard to put into words the joy that birds bring to one's life," he says. Especially when he's writing about the ivory-billed woodpecker, long the holy grail and "Lord God bird" for many birders — and most certainly extinct. It haunts his dreams, and after reading this book, you'll find it haunting yours, too.

Pamela Miller is a night metro editor at the Star Tribune.

Flock Together: A Love Affair With Extinct Birds
By: B.J. Hollars.
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press, 224 pages, $24.95.