I have a Nikon D40 SLR camera and I love it! I have never taken a photography course but it is still easy to use and I get beautiful pictures. I have a book that I bought to learn some of the features but have never actually used it. I use it for almost everything but I have a Nikon Point and Shoot as well and I can always tell the difference.
The D40 is an older model (about 4 years) and has been replaced with a similar but newer model. Mine was around $400 but well worth it.