Suggest Michael Freeman's "The 35 mm Handbook".
I like the Olympus OM system for many reasons -- rangefinder size but SLR. Ridiculously cheap these days.
But most of my actual shooting is with a Contax G1. I've said this in another thread, but again -- a Bentley for the price of a new Beetle. And the design quality matches the optics.
Taking a good class would do you no harm. Of course, as in most classroom settings, so much depends on the instructor.